First Monday Book Day: Food for Thought


Late last year I admitted to myself that I was in a reading rut. I'd been reading history almost exclusively for two years as I plowed my way through coursework. I had read a ton of great books, but had ceased enjoying them. I was overdue for a change of pace before I burnt myself out. So I wrote a Book of Face post asking for suggestions of good graphic novels or comic book series, thinking those were about as far removed from academic history as possible. I hadn't picked up a work in either genre since I read Persepolis in 2007 or so, and it seemed like time was ripe. I got a ton of good suggestions, made up a list, and started reading. Not everything I've read has been great, but one book emulsified a hilarious concept and captivating execution without breaking: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's Choice, which collects the first five issues of the comic book series of the same name.

The premise of Chew is brilliant: Tony Chu is a detective, but not just any detective. Chu has a special power: he is a cibopath, a taste psychic. Give Chu something to eat and he knows, from soup to nuts, everything about it (provided the evidence is fresh enough). As you might expect, this rapidly becomes a source of great humor and (for unseasoned readers) more than a little queasiness.

Thanks to a deadly avian flu pandemic, chicken has been outlawed in Tony Chu's America. Because nothing tastes like chicken, a healthy black market for the real thing springs up. Chu quickly rises beyond his initial assignment, finding himself drafted into the FDA's special crimes unit, an agency with (near as I can tell), the combined powers of the FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security. The mystery Chu is investigating quickly goes pear-shaped when his brother (a chef) becomes entangled.

Sometimes great concepts only enjoy half-baked execution, but the world of Chew is consistently crisp. The artwork is effervescent, but smoothly shifts to a darker register when things get unsavory. Chu's partner is described as "the love child of Orson Welles and a grizzly bear," and displays infectious zest for his work.

I've read several other reviews of this book, and not one has mentioned the character names. A small thing, perhaps, but they amuse.

Like Malört, Chew might not be to every reader's taste. Some might find the humor cloying, or might find the premise too gut-churning to continue. To me, however, Chew is positively rib-tickling.

What books have you been devouring?

66 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: Food for Thought”

  1. I finished up Felix Gillman's The Half Made World and really enjoyed it. A good world-building book with a very interesting anti-hero. Creedmore's banter within his head was great. Also, did anyone else who's read this picture him as Lee Van Cleef?

      1. I read that after I finished last night. Considering how open ended the finish was, it a shame that he doesn't stick with the main plot line.

  2. I think I decided what my 2014 reading goal will be. I'm going to try and tackle one "big book" per month. Defining a "big book" as something I've wanted to read for a long time but have been too intimidated (or busy... yes, too busy, that's my excuse) to attempt before this. Many of these will probably be books by authors I've read before, but haven't fully explored. Others will be new experiences.

    I've got a pool of books already lined up, but I'm always open to more suggestions. (A * indicates I've read something else by the author).

    January - Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec. Finished this one last week, review to come.
    February - Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.* I'm still about 30-40 pages in. Time to get serious.

    Other months (in no particular order, yes I know I have more than 12 months here)-

    Roberto Bolano* - The Savage Detectives
    David Markson* - This is Not a Novel
    Bruno Schulz - Street of Crocodiles
    Italo Calvino* - Invisible Cities
    Jorge Luis Borges - Labyrinths
    Vladmir Nabokov* - Pale Fire
    Salman Rushdie - Satanic Verses
    Haruki Murakami* - Norwegian Wood
    Lazlo Krasznahorkai* - Seiobo There Below
    John Fowles - The Magus
    Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash
    Fyodor Dostoevsky* - Demons / Brother's K / The Idiot (one of these, not all three)
    James Joyce - Ulysses (probably not this one)

    1. You scheduled Pynchon for the shortest month of the year? That's ambitious.

      I have Calvino (If on a Winter's Night a Traveler) and Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov) on my list for this year, too.

      I liked Norwegian Wood, but I like most Murakami. What else have you read of his?

        1. Lindsey has a copy of 1Q84 sitting here next to the TV. I keep thinking I should give it a crack.

            1. I would consider Cryptonomicon to be Awesome. Also, The Shockwave Rider

              Neuromancer wasn't really to my tastes.

              Here's one that I think might fall into the subgenre that I very much enjoyed, from 2003: Appleseed by John Clute.

            2. Oh, well I wasn't necessarily looking for cyberpunk, just haven't ever read any Stephenson, even though he's been "on my list" for a long time. I guess I got the wrong impression of those books.

              1. My entry into Stephenson was The Diamond Age, which is kind of steampunkish. And Awesome.

                Cryptonomicon is a commitment (Because Long). But Awesome. Snowcrash I don't actually recall reading. Maybe because I haven't?

                Be warned: Stephenson's biggest flaw is that he has a hard time concluding stories. Wrapping things up has not been his strong suit.

                1. He does get better at that.

                  Cryptonomicon is a good intro for his later works. His writing has matured since then, but it still has the same feel. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age have a different feel. Both still Awesome.

                  1. well, the Baroque Cycle (also Awesome) mostly escapes the criticism by avoiding coming to an end. It's like a bazillion pages long.

                    I've had Anathem sitting on my shelf for many months now, waiting for me to start it.

                    1. That's where it gets better. I don't know if the improvement continues in Reamde; it's on the list.

    2. As I mentioned before, I'll probably tackle Pale Fire this year too. And the more I think about it, I wonder if you wouldn't like Midnight's Children more than Satanic Verses. I'm not convinced one way or the other, but it might be something others have a better feel for.

        1. I can probably make either available to you. As well as The Magus. And Gulliver's Travels.

          I should add stuff to that book exchangef, huh?

      1. I'd really like to read Pale Fire given that I used to enjoy Nabokov a lot, back when I was young and ambitious. If you both read it this year, I definitely will too.

        1. Woo! You should pick up Gravity's Rainbow with us too! (Ok, that might be asking a lot).

          1. Well, it's not that much, and I did tell someone in the last month.
            Being a precocious pre-teen, I checked it out from the library when I was like 12.
            I think I made it partway into chapter 3 before giving up. I believe that the end of chapter 2 is when

            Spoiler SelectShow

            The book did not make much sense to young AMR. I'm curious to see how it reads now that I'm older, but not that curious.

            I soon read Rushdie's The Jaguar Smile and that was a lot easier to make sense of.

    3. February - Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.* I'm still about 30-40 pages in. Time to get serious.
      I'm with you. Maybe a post-marathon goal.

      1. I disagree. I think Demons is brilliant, and after having read Bros K twice, I think I'd maybe move it behind Demons. I haven't read The Idiot (though I was supposed to have...).

              1. I sat through plenty of class discussion on that book, so I actually had a fair idea what you were saying with the rough translation I got from google.

    4. Made a note to buy that Nabokov. BTW - there is a condensed version of Ulysses avail (like in 1000 words).

      1. Speaking of, it's worth pointing out that before you read Ulysses you should probably read The Odyssey. Cough.

    5. Hadn't heard of Pale Fire before - saw it on your list and ordered it, just got it yesterday - am reading now.

      One of our sillier Zemblan proverbs says: the lost glove is happy. I love it.

  3. Mortal Prey - John Sanford - quick easy read. Part of a series that I didn't realize was 13 books long (at the time of this book's release) so I put off reading for a while. I didn't have anything else going so I read it. I'll read some more of these as time permits.

    Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Café - Fannie Flagg - I love the movie and almost didn't start reading this. I'm glad I have. There's so much more going on with the characters that I've stopped seeing Jessica Tandy, Mary Louise Parker and Cathy Bates and instead am learning who they are.

    1. I read Fried Green Tomatoes years ago. My recollection is that the book is fairly different and there's a lot of depth and complexity that wasn't in the movie.

      Actual Spoiler SelectShow
      1. It is different...better! Funnier, more poignant and certainly more insightful than the movie. High praise considering how much I enjoyed the flick!

  4. I'm still plugging my way through Gravity's Rainbow. I'm 200 and some small number of pages in right now. I feel like I've hit a spot where the reading got a lot easier, but I haven't had as much time lately as I've wanted. My ambitious goal, like DG, is to finish it in February. We'll see how that goes.

    1. oy, a combination of work, party, eating, and lack of time in general have conspired against me. 57 pages in and still working to carve out real reading time. We'll get through this together. after mardi gras...... maybe........ probably not.......

        1. If by late you mean that we have more time to party before hand, then, yes, mardi gras is late this year.

  5. I was asked to share this with others. 860 kilowords in one anthology, available for your ereader (no PDF available).

    M. David Blake’s magnum opus, the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, is now available for download! This book attempts to collect in one volume representative works by most of the writers eligible for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

  6. When my uncle died last summer, I inherited (no one else wanted) his extensive library of military books mostly focused on the Civil War. I read Allan Nevins's first volume of his seven volume Ordeal of the Union and found it really good (not as easy as Foote, but much more researched) after the first 100 pages when he bemoaned America's lack of culture compared to Victorian England. I started volume two, but expect to put it on hold once one of a couple of library books on reserve show up.

    I also read a book about the last year of the single class HS basketball tournament in Indiana. Easy, quick read with some names that were vaguely in my head (like Luke Recker).

  7. Books read in January:

    Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

    There's an apartment building in Paris that Perec has laid out on a 10x10 grid. Some rooms are bigger than others, and so get multiple squares, some are only a single square. Next Perec started somewhere and did a "Knight's Walk" (moving like a knight in chess) throughout the whole grid, covering every square once. Thus it becomes a fragmented story that weaves in and out of some apartments and stairwells and elevator machinery rooms, cellars, etc. Within each chapter Perec had a list of things that must be included. I can't exactly tell you all the constraints he used to construct these chapters, but you get the idea.

    For all that, it's a really good, readable book. Perec is obsessed with objects (there's a 70-page index in the back listing every object mentioned in the book), so there are occasional lists of things that don't always serve an obvious purpose, but I took them as part of the overall theme of cataloging as much as one can, and they worked that way. For all the characters there are a lot of self-consuming quests, none bigger than the "main" character Bartlebooth, who has a 50-year plan that involves learning to paint (lots of paintings in this book), circumnavigating the world, hiring a puzzle maker (so many puzzles), and a chemist to create and destroy a truly remarkable undertaking.

    Perhaps the most amazing thing in this book is at the halfway point there is a 179 line acrostic. The chapter it appears in is about the painter (see? more paintings) who lives in the attic who is attempting to paint the apartment building that he lives in (the one that's the subject of this book) as it appears at a particular instant in time (sound familiar?). Each line is 60 characters long and contains a short summary of this or that story that appears, or will appear in the book. What blew my mind is that the book was originally written in French, so the acrostic had to be translated, maintaining the meaning of each line as well as the hidden message (translated as well). Truly amazing, definitely my favorite moment in the book.

    I'm really glad I read this, its plot isn't particularly gripping and it wasn't easy to sit down and read big chunks of it, but the characters became real, and when you returned to their room you were happy to see them again. You could read this without any awareness of constraints or word puzzles and still enjoy yourself, I think. Nonetheless, I was helped along by the online book club at Conversational Reading which pointed out some things I didn't notice and confirmed some other things I didn't. Highly recommended.

    Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

    Audiobook for the trip back from Minnesota after New Year's. Meh. I laughed a few times, but it wasn't really anything to get too excited about. Not sure there was enough material here for an actual book.

    The Persistence of Crows by Grant Maierhofer

    I got this book sent to me by the author (won a Twitter giveaway thing). A college kid writer visits New York City for a weekend. The main character is a likable kid, withdrawn, probably depressed (with occasional thoughts of suicide) but still capable of enthusiasm for quite a few things and some people (mostly strangers, he doesn't seem interested in the people he knows in any way).

    I guess I never hung out much with anyone, except for the occasional girl, and the occasional friend, but usually friends brought me down. After a while they made me realize where I really was in life, and how far away it seemed to be from where anyone else was, and it made me know for certain how far off I was from the stream of the world, how much of an outsider I really was. But I care deeply for that side of me, I love it, and something inside of me needs it.

    He meets a girl in NYC and then the weekend ends and he returns to the Midwest and the back half of the book is quite a departure from the first bit. How we're introduced to him makes the whole thing really work, and I had a hard time putting the book down for the last 50 pages or so.

  8. Roy Hibbert chimes in

    1. 'Spoiler' SelectShow

Comments are closed.