September Book Review Club: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

CorkDork

Bianca Bosker was a technology editor with an average knowledge of wine when she first encountered the world of sommeliers. She related to their drive and passion, having an obsessive personality of her own, and she envied how sensory their world was, compared to her own experiences writing about technology. Soon after, Bosker quit her job at the Huffington Post to learn about wine full time, starting humbly as a “cellar rat” in a Manhattan restaurant, then befriending restaurant owners and master sommelier students and gaining entrance to prestigious wine events.

The best way I can describe Cork Dork is to say imagine Hermione Granger was a slightly hipsterish millennial aspiring to be a sommelier and then she wrote a memoir about it.  It’s about a woman developing new passions and seeking new challenges, but it’s also very nerdy and encyclopedic.  When Bosker learns about wine, she does what the sommeliers do and joins tasting groups; creates endless flashcards; develops her sense of smell by sniffing chives and lavender; and gives up salt, coffee, and mouthwash. But she doesn’t stop there because she wants to know everything about wine.  She learns the history of sommeliers, she meets with scientists researching taste and smell, learns how science has engineered wine to be of consistent quality from year to year, and questions whether we can truly know what it is that makes a wine “good.”

While Cork Dork is nerdy, it’s never boring. Bosker’s enthusiasm is contagious and charming.  It was a book that made me want to drink more wine and generally focus more on my senses. It did not make me want to follow in her footsteps and become a sommelier. She correctly portrays the sommelier’s world as disciplined and grueling, and I knew from the earliest chapters that wine would never be more than a hobby for me. I enjoyed reading her journey and I loved the glimpses into the more exclusive corners of the wine world, but I have no desire to give up coffee or drink wine in the morning. For me, that would lessen rather than increase my joy of wine.

I do recommend Cork Dork for wine lovers and foodies or for people who enjoy memoirs.

FCC Notice: I bought my own copy.

 

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April Book Review Club:  Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (memoir)

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I have been thinking a lot about reading these days: reading as escape, reading for information, reading as an act of resistance. It’s my interest in reading as resistance that led me to this book. I have picked this book up in bookstores at least a dozen times over the last decade, only to put it back down.  Which I am now grateful that I did because I needed to read this book –and read it as a first time reader– right now.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of Professor Azar Nafisi’s book club, where she invited seven of her female former university students to join a weekly reading group at her house where they would discuss forbidden works of Western literature.  There are four sections to this memoir:  Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen.  Lolita and Austen serve as bookends and tell the story of the book club, while the Gatsby and James sections go into Nafisi’s academic career and how her students responded to Western literature in different political climates. Reading Lolita in Tehran praises how literature teaches empathy, which the author would likely say has more value than any moral lessons embedded in the text, and emphasizes the importance of imagination.

In addition to being about literature and personal liberty, Reading Lolita in Tehran is about the lives of women and about female friendships.  The young women in the class range in age from the late teens to early thirties. Some are liberal, while others are more religious and traditional.  Some have had multiple marriages while others have never had a boyfriend.  Some of them have been imprisoned.  All of them are well-educated, and each is independent in her own way.  They are alike in their love of literature and in that all of them are restricted by the laws and culture of Iran.

As I read this, I kept thinking of current events.  On some level, this is not quite fair to what the people of Iran went through in the eighties and nineties.  Nafisi had friends and family who were executed during this time, and she kept a nightly vigil outside her small children’s bedrooms while bombs fell on Tehran.  Nafisi had to make choices between her career and her personal liberty.  Meanwhile I am irritated by the people who are currently in power and concerned about what will happen to the rights of women and minorities over the next few years.  So I am not suggesting the two situations are the same, especially on the level of severity, but I think lessons can be learned from Iran in how political climates can change so dramatically and how everyday people both contribute to this and are victimized by it.

I hope that in ten years time, I will look back at my current blog posts lamenting certain current events and find my posts to be melodramatic and ridiculous.  I hope the current national environment is nothing more than a normal step backyard that will soon be remedied by moving two steps forward.  I hope the checks and balances are more effective than I think and the American people less apathetic.  But it may not be.  Reading Lolita in Tehran does show that progressive changes can be reversed.  Nafisi writes of being young in a progressive environment, only to have her daughter be born into an environment where women’s rights had moved back to what they had been in her grandmother’s youth when girls could be brides at age nine and courts ruled in favor of domestic abusers.

It could have been a depressing book, but it is not.  It is a celebration of life, love, friendship, and literature.  This book left me grateful to be a reader and grateful to Professor Nafisi for sharing her stories and her life with us readers.  I wanted to be part of her book club, eating oranges and pastries and drinking tea out of beautiful glassware, while talking about literature and life with these women.  And I am left with an urge to read and/or re-read the books mentioned in this memoir, looking at them with a new perspective.

FCC Notice:  I read a library copy.

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