The Brewer’s Tale by William Bostwick

The influence of beer in history, and the more and less delicious forms it’s taken along the way.

brewers tale

In The Brewer’s Tale, homebrewer William Bostwick (Beer Craft) examines beer in history and the history in beer, brewing as he goes.

Bostwick follows the progression of human history, starting with primitive Mesopotamian bread and its immediate companion (rudimentary ale) and moving through the early European shamans who used beer (sometimes laced with hallucinogens) in their practices to the monks whose influence persists in abbey and Trappist ales. He visits the farmer who brewed with his leftover produce, and members of the London working class who passionately consumed the porters that were named after them. With each stop on this tour, Bostwick gives equal play to the past and to characters who maintain or rejuvenate these historic styles. He also attempts his own brews, with mixed results. Through grogs and meads; farmhouse ales like lambics, sours and saisons; porters, stouts and pales; and finally light (and lite) lagers, The Brewer’s Tale reminds us that beer is not only the stuff of frat parties or snifter-poured snobbery; it can be experimental, fresh and fun, and has always been at the heart of the human experience.

Bostwick runs a little heavy on symbolism, but his subject is heady and intoxicating, so why not the metaphor as well? The initiate will be well served, but even a well-read beer geek can be excited anew by these reflections, and the homebrewer may well be inspired to fresh projects. The Brewer’s Tale is history, a joyful celebration and a call to appetizing action in an easygoing, conversational tone.


This review originally ran in the October 21, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 caves.

Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer by Margaret Webb

An amiable and instructive memoir about achieving and maintaining competitive fitness at any age.

older

Margaret Webb (Apples to Oysters) was a successful young athlete and an active adult, but never suspected she might be a marathoner. Staring down her 50th birthday, she became curious about what she could accomplish. She knew there were competitive women runners several decades her senior; could she join their ranks? Older, Faster, Stronger covers what Webb calls her “super-fit year.” And as her subtitle states, the lessons she shares are valuable for men and women of all ages, in any sport.

With the luxury of being able to devote her time and energy primarily to training, Webb engages expert nutritionists, personal trainers, coaches, sports psychologists, aging specialists, physiologists and laboratory researchers. She has her maximal oxygen consumption tested (twice); adds cross-training, gym time and track workouts to her running schedule; travels; and brunches with world champion septua-, octo- and nonagenarian women. She sets goals: to qualify for the Boston Marathon under the fastest women’s standard (the qualifying time for 18-to-34-year-old women) and to be competitive in the half-marathon at the World Masters Games.

Webb is meticulous in applying her results stringently to her own life and documenting them for her readers. Her research appears thorough, although the more fastidious reader may be frustrated by the absence of citations. Older, Faster, Stronger is packed with statistics and studies, but is well explained, so the reader will find the science easily digestible. Athletes of any sex, age and discipline can benefit from–and be entertained by–Webb’s approachable investigation of becoming faster and stronger into advance age.


This review originally ran in the October 10, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 minutes.

Teaser Tuesdays: The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

chandler

Yes, it’s true, I just recently did a book beginning; but Chandler is just so quotable (thus this whole book, of course). I couldn’t let this one pass us by.

I write when I can and I don’t write when I can’t, always in the morning or the early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don’t stand up.

That first sentence is unclear: which condition happens always in the morning or the early part of the day? the can, or the can’t? I choose to believe that it is the can; many respected writers (ahem Hemingway) do or did their best work in the mornings. I am certainly a morning person myself. And I like this idea that our nighttime ideas are “gaudy”; I think that’s perfect. I get ideas at night, but they never stand up to sunlit scrutiny. What about you?

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

chandler

I love the Chandler quotation that opens the lovely introduction to this collection of his writings in little snippets. I had to share.

I’m just a fellow who jacked up a few pulp novelettes into book form… All I’m looking for is an excuse for certain experiments in dramatic dialogue. To justify them I have to have plot and situation; but fundamentally I care almost nothing about either. All I really care about is what Errol Flynn calls “the music,” the lines he has to speak.

I think that is a fine way to note what sets Chandler aside, which is in many ways the quintessential gruff wit of hard-boiled, pulpy dialog. (Or dialogue.) I love it.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers by Sean Lewis

Anecdotes and observations of American craft brewing that will make readers thirsty.

beer

Sean Lewis was working as a sportswriter in 2010 when he got his first writing assignment from Beer Advocate–a profile of the infant Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, Mass. He worked there as an unpaid intern, learning the brewing ropes, and admired what he calls “the Tao of the brewmaster.” Many brewery tours and interviews later, in We Make Beer, he relates the “spirit and artistry” of craft brewers from coast to coast, from garages and barns to the largest brewhouses in the nation.

Lewis visits with major players (Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada, Stone), younger, smaller efforts (Nebraska, Jackalope), brewpubs and production breweries, and explores various approaches to the concept of growth. For example, Sheepscot Valley Brewing Company has chosen to stay local to Whitefield, Maine, and the community has repaid that effort, while West Coasters Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas have recently opened East Coast locations to serve their expanding markets. In language that will make readers thirst for a well-crafted pint, and with graceful transitions between topics, Lewis undertakes what is clearly a labor of love–much like the businesses he writes about. His celebration of the women and men of craft brewing is both accessible to the novice (see his one-page appendix on the brewing process, and explanation of the pronunciation of “wort”) and thoroughly rewarding for the beer aficionado. A comment about a collaboration between three breweries is equally applicable to the larger concept of Lewis’s book: “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.”


This review originally ran in the September 26, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 pints, naturally.

Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects by Scott Richard Shaw

An impassioned view of insect evolution and the awesome implications of bugs for all life on earth.

bugs

Scott Richard Shaw has been collecting bugs since he was four. Now a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, he shares his passion for these creatures and their cosmological significance in Planet of the Bugs.

The scope of this work is immense. Shaw begins with the Cambrian period, more than half a billion years ago, by examining the sea-dwelling arthropods that first developed body armor and mobility, and then follows them through prehistory and into the modern day. He argues for the predominance of insects, as they are Earth’s most diverse and adaptive animals and thus the best survivors over time. The dinosaurs were impressive, and we like to emphasize the importance of our own human species in earth’s history–he criticizes this human-centrism throughout–but Shaw makes an excellent case that insects “literally rule the planet.”

Planet of the Bugs is packed with intriguing trivia. Parasitic flies feed in turn on the blood of vampire bats; caddisflies are “nature’s most adept architect,” building portable, protective cases for themselves using the natural materials around them; the griffinflies of the Carboniferous period (which looked something like huge versions of the modern dragonfly) had wingspans of two to three feet; female sawflies and wasps choose the sex of their offspring.

Shaw boggles the reader with his enthusiasm and expertise, and reveals a playful side. Among his many encyclopedic turns, he waxes philosophical and indulges in metaphor and even humor, resulting in a surprisingly accessible and entertaining read. A love of bugs is not required.


This review originally ran in the September 23, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 old wings.

My Grandfather’s Gallery by Anne Sinclair

Investigations by an art dealer’s granddaughter into paintings stolen in World War II France.

grandfather

Paul Rosenberg was a successful art dealer in Paris in the 1930s, a friend to and advocate for Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. A Jewish man, he fled his home in Vichy France in 1940, fearing for his family, his livelihood and his collection of modern masterpieces. From his new home and gallery in New York City, he campaigned for the rest of his life to recover the many valuable paintings and sculptures he lost during the war, looted by Nazis and French collaborators.

Journalist Anne Sinclair didn’t pay much attention to her maternal grandfather’s life and work as an art dealer until he was long dead. In examining old papers, however, she discovered a story that moved her and that represents the experience of many French artists and art professionals, whose collections were stolen and never returned. In My Grandfather’s Gallery, Sinclair writes that she “wanted to create an homage to my grandfather, a series of impressionist strokes to evoke a man who was a stranger to me yesterday, yet who today seems quite familiar.”

Many unidentified paintings continue to lie in museum basements throughout France even now, “awaiting the return of those who will not come back.” Sinclair, like her grandfather, acknowledges that lost lives trump lost art; but the spoliation of priceless paintings constitutes an important piece of her family history, as recorded in this deeply felt memoir. Despite an occasionally awkward translation to English, My Grandfather’s Gallery is a powerful history made personal.


This review originally ran in the September 19, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 5 letters.
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