Book Marks

Fart the Messenger BoyI’m currently working on a couple of book reviews, and I hope to have one of them up shortly. In the mean time please enjoy some news and gossip about books, writers and readers.

Pop Sugar reminds us to read the books before the film adaptions show up at our local movie theaters.

BJ Novak, who you probably remember as Ryan the Temp from “The Office” has a trailer to his upcoming book, One More Thing. And it features (spoiler alert) Mindy Kaling, yep, Kelly Kapoor!

Laura Miller from Salon.com asks, “Can you make kids like books?”

Want to write? Successful writers offer some great tips.

Sony Pictures has bought the film rights to Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Flavorwire offers some hypothetical film plots for the COO of Facebook’s non-fictional, advice-giving tome.

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Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman

Behind the Kitchen DoorWe are a nation of foodies. We are concerned that the food we consume is sustainable, organic and locally-grown. We post photographs of our meals on Instagram. We revere well-known chefs like they are rock stars. And we make countless trips to restaurants, whether they are greasy spoon diners or high-end white tablecloth establishments.

I admit to being a foodie, too. Though I eat plenty of homemade meals, I consider it to be a blessing to live in such a great restaurant town. My own neighborhood boasts of great eateries featuring all kinds of food-Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Greek, French, Ethiopian and so on. There is even a restaurant in my neighborhood that makes gourmet, artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches.

I eat at these restaurants, enjoy my meals with relish, treat the staff with respect and always leave a good tip. But I truly know what it’s like to work at a restaurant? Well, I thought I had some idea, but Saru Jayaraman’s book Behind the Kitchen Door really opened up my eyes and my mind.

Behind the Kitchen Door takes a very thorough look at how those who make our food and deliver it to our tables are treated by the restaurant industry, an industry that can treat its workers quite cruelly. And this doesn’t just happen at fast food joints or national chains like the Olive Garden or Denny’s. Fancy, high-end restaurants are also guilty of treating their employees poorly.

Jayaraman first became aware of restaurant workers’ plight when she was contacted by some people who used to work at the restaurant Windows on the World. Windows on the World was located at the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2011 73 of Windows’ workers perished when the WTC was attacked and over 200 of its workers were displaced. Windows’ owner promised his surviving workers he would hire them for another restaurant in uptown Manhattan. He broke his promise prompting several workers, most notably Fekkah Mamdouh, to work together along with Jayaraman and protest this initial development. Windows’ owner recanted and offered these employees work at the new restaurant. Thusly, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) was created, and it is working incredibly hard making sure restaurants workers are treated with respect and dignity and are rewarded properly for their hard work.

Reading this book really confirmed why ROC is so necessary. Behind the Kitchen Door relayed story after story of despicable low wages, no decent benefits including sick leave or health insurance, stolen tips, sexual harassment and blatant racism and sexism. And much of this doesn’t just happen to bussers or wait staff; workers we assume aren’t skilled or educated. Even highly-trained cooks and chefs deal with these issues. In one profile, Jayaraman tells the story of pastry chef Alicia. Alicia graduated from a well-regarded culinary school. She’s a talented and creative pastry chef at a good restaurant who is often praised for her amazing creations. Yet, she is making barely over minimum wage. For some odd reason her bosses don’t see her education, talent and skills as a pastry chef worthy of a sustainable wage.

Other profiles discuss anger-inducing stories of women being sexually-harassed and denied promotions. Minorities tell of tales of whites given better positions or promotions even if they don’t have the skills or experience. Many of the workers profiled told Jayaraman of coming in sick because they aren’t given any type of sick leave and are worried they might lose a job if they do call in sick. I don’t know about you, but I really want the people handling my food to be healthy.
Why are these things allowed to happen? Well, the other NRA-the National Restaurant Association-has enough money and clout, especially with politicians, to work against the plight of restaurant workers. And some restaurant owners are just not ethical employers.

But Behind the Kitchen Door reminds us that not all is lost. Yes, ROC is doing great work and its influence is spreading throughout the country. But Jayaraman also gives us positive tales of restaurant owners who treat their staff with common decency and fair wages. LA’s Good Girl Dinette offers its workers good pay and is figuring out how to get them better benefits. Its owner, a young woman named Diep, also is open-minded to her staff’s ideas and concerns. And Jason and Ben who own Russell Street Deli in Detroit also offer good pay and hope to offer good benefits like health insurance. Russell Street Deli also boasts of a very diverse staff.

But what can we do as restaurant patrons do make sure the industry’s workers are treated fairly. Behind the Kitchen Door offers many options. We can ask restaurant managers about their labor practices, we can encourage our politicians to focus on raising the minimum wage for tipped workers, we can boycott restaurants that are known for treating staff poorly and we can also join ROC’s campaign support all restaurant workers and check out its ROC National Diner’s Guide, which rates how various restaurants treat their employees. Not all of these things will be easy (I’d be a bit nervous confronting a restaurant manager about his or her labor practices). And just picking up Behind the Kitchen door and being open to the plight of restaurant workers is a positive step in the right direction. Behind the Kitchen Door isn’t always a comfortable read-many of the stories will truly make you lose your appetite-but it is definitely important food for thought.

Retro Review: Class Reunion by Rona Jaffe

Class Reunion_I decided to dust off a retro read review I wrote ages ago and publish it here. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for a fun, quick, juicy read you can’t go wrong reading anything by Rona Jaffe. Ms. Jaffe is her generation’s Carrie Bradshaw. She chronicled the love lives of women coming of age in the prim and prudish 1950s where gay men were still on the down low, straight men were all cads and women were pretty much expected to go to college and the workplace to find a husband.

I must have read my mom’s copy of Class Reunion when I was a middle school, and at the time it was probably pretty salacious to my 13-year-old brain. By today’s standards where any kid can access porn from the Internet, Class Reunion is probably pretty tame stuff. However, it’s also an engrossing, entertaining and page-turning read.

Class Reunion follows four main characters during their years at Radcliffe and the years after they graduate. Anabel is a high-spirited and flirtatious Southern belle. Chris is the mousy intellectual. Emily is insecure and eager to please. And Daphne is the campus golden girl. However, all of them have their trials and tribulations like anybody else.

Anabel, Chris, Emily and Daphne pretty much arrive at Radcliffe with one thing in mind. Marriage! Sure, they all desire getting an education, but having available men at nearby Harvard is just an added bonus. A Harvard man? Be still my heart!

As I mentioned, Class Reunion begins in the 1950s, a time of white gloves and pearls. Women were supposed to aspire to be wives and mothers and they better be virgins on their wedding night! Of course, plenty of people had sexy time before their nuptials. And in Class Reunion a few characters indulge in carnal delights. Anabel, the Blanche Devereaux of the group, is one of the first to have sex, and is immediately branded a whore. And mousy Chris sleeps with Alexander who she later finds out is keeping a deep, dark secret. Emily falls in love with an aspiring doctor, and Daphne tries to hold on to her golden girl status hoping nobody will find out she has epilepsy.

All the women do find love as graduation appears. And they believe marriage, children and life in suburbia will be blissful. But of course, following a linear path so in-grained in the 1950s course doesn’t come to fruition. And the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s definitely affect our heroines. Daphne gives birth to a child with Down ’s syndrome. Chris’ husband Alexander is gay. Anabel’s bestie, Max, is brutally murdered. And Emily realizes being a doctor’s wife isn’t exactly a picnic.

The Radcliffe grads meet once again at their 20th class reunion. They are older, maybe wiser and try to come to grips of how life has changed for themselves and the world around them.

Class Reunion is hardly groundbreaking. And the characters fit into stereotypical female archetypes found in everything from the Golden Girls to Sex in the City. In fact, while writing this I kept thinking to myself, “Okay, Chris is the Miranda. Emily is neurotic like Carrie. Daphne reminds me of Charlotte. And Anabel is totally Samantha.” Still, Class Reunion is the perfect retro chick-lit and a great trashy read.

Writer’s Block

Little_Miss_BusyWriter’s Block? More like a whole damn building. It’s been just over a month since I wrote a review or anything else for this blog. Please excuse my absence. I’ve been meaning to write something for weeks but I’ve been monumentally busy. First, there was the busyness of the holidays, but the biggest reason for my lack of posting is the insane amount of overtime I’ve been working. It’s crunch time and I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at the office. In fact, this is the first Saturday I’ve had off in a very long time. I almost forgot what is was like to not work on a Saturday. Fortunately, things a slowing down a bit. I’m still working some overtime, but my life is getting a bit back to normal.

So, what about this blog? Well, I hope to write some new reviews shortly. I actually have three books in mind that would make for some great reviews. It may take me a while, so I appreciate your patience. I will probably look over some old book reviews I wrote a while back (including some fun trashy reads) and post them over here so I don’t look like a complete slacker. And I’m always on the lookout for new books to read, and hopefully, review.

Peace and happiness in 2014. And happy reading!!!