SOUNDINGS: Suggested summer reading

“Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (Penguin Press) is the latest book from Michael Pollan.

Pollan, who teaches at UC Berkeley, is author of many books about food including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire.” This new one is not a cookbook but, rather as alluded to in the subtitle, a book about the processes of cooking.

He takes the four basic elements of the classical world — earth, air, fire and water — and sets to assay how they are used to transform parts of nature into what we eat, food. Tracing down assorted culinary masters in various disciplines he sets out to learn how grill things over fire, bake bread, braise things in liquid and ferment a number of things from coleslaw to pickles, cheese and beer.

He sets out for North Carolina to take stock of barbeque pits, finds a Chez Pannise chef to tutor him in the art of braising, finds a noted baker to help make some bread and hooks up with what he calls a tribe of “fermentos” who use fungi and bacteria to transform things into beer and cheese.

As with all of Pollan’s books, in each section he gives us numerous asides and sidebars on the history and cultures of the various cooking techniques. In an appendix, he gives us four recipes, one for each process: barbeques pork shoulder, Bolognese sauce and past, whole wheat bread and sauerkraut.

“The Flamethrowers” (Scribner) is Rachel Kushner’s follow up novel to “Telex from Cuba,” which was nominated for the National Book Award.

It is set in the mid-1970s and is the story of a young woman named Reno who is called that because it was where she was born. She does on thing very well, drive motorcycles fast, really fast. She sets out for New York City to turn this love of speed into some kind of art.

Falling headlong into the tumultuous art world of New York in the ‘70s, she begins an affair with the notorious and scandalous heir to an Italian motorcycle and tire fortune. Next plunging into the realities of Italian class warfare, she tests her own limits both personally and in the arena of a rapidly changing art world. A thoroughly compelling read.

Tom Hennen’s “Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press) is a succinct overview of the work of this Minnesota poet. Hennen’s poems draw from a lifelong engagement with the land, working it as a framer and later as a wildlife technician.

Drawn from six previous collections, along with a generous selection of new work, his poems conjure in short lines seasonal weather, hard work and simple joys such as when he realizes the sunlight “is already tired from traveling/250,000 miles/to shine on some trees.”


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