Easy Breezy Reads

I'm an August baby -- but that's not the only reason I consider it a month of romance and intrigue.

For four-season denizens, August is the last big pause before the insane frenzied pace of 21st century urban life resumes. August allows us to stand still and breathe -- the salty air of the ocean, the perfume of a peach, the smoky fumes of a neighbor's char-grilled burgers.

It's the last chance for a swim, an evening with the fireflies, or a date with all those books you've wanted to meet. And maybe, just maybe, there's still enough time to get out of Dodge before the school bell starts to clang clang clang, the whistles blow, the highways bend, the days get shorter and we wake up it's Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

Congress takes a break in August -- why not the rest of us?

A week from today, I'm giving myself a bit of my own medicine and heading out to the cooler pastures of Seattle. It's a vacation of sorts; I'll still be working, but I'll write from a houseboat and look out at Lake Union as I blog and ponder what's for lunch in what is a gastronomic pleasure palace.

As part of my trip preparation, I've got a small mountain of half-read books ready for the suitcase, all of which I'm eager to finish devouring. All light fare (an August must), all of the following titles are a delicious combination of food and travel. So even if you find yourself stuck on local cement, these books may sweep you away for a brief magic carpet ride.

I'm close to finishing up "Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess" by Gael Greene, the bodacious memoir by New York magazine's longtime restaurant critic. Greene takes you on many tours - Paris, New York and the bedroom. If you like sex with your meal, Greene's menu will nourish. She shares in great detail her many sexual liaisons, which include heart throbs such as Elvis, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, plus an extended, unorthodox relationship with porn star Jamie Gillis.

Sure, Greene documents the birth of the restaurant scene in the 1970s here and abroad -- and offers a fly-on-the-wall view of its founding palates -- James Beard, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Andre Soltner, Jean Troisgros -- but I must confess, I found myself flipping through the book for her juicy tales between the sheets.

You can whet your appetite with this juicy excerpt.

I'm only about a fourth way through Steve Almond's "Candy Freak," already laughing out loud and nodding in nearly embarrassed agreement. Almond confesses to his obsession with American candy from his youth -- a youth that as someone about to turn 40, can relate to. Remember the Marathon Bar? Caravelle? Chuckles? He asks questions that I too always wanted answered, such as: Who chose the color for Jordan almonds? And what's the deal with lime LifeSavers? Why was the Circus Peanut ever created in the first place? These are questions that may blow right over anyone who was born later than 1979, and we old folks forgive you. (These are the same kids who have never seen an eight-track tape.)

Almond travels around the country to the root of his childhood obsession -- the candy factories still cranking out his favorite confections. I can't wait to take more bites out of this one.

A never-ending cross-country road trip, with lots of filler-up pit stops, is what you'll get from "Two for the Road" by Jane and Michael Stern. Eating their way through the United States since the 1970s, the Sterns have become media stars in their own right, with a monthly column in Gourmet magazine and a weekly public radio appearance on The Splendid Table with Lynn Rossetto Kasper. In addition to their hilarious tales of eating off the side of the road, the Sterns offer 40 recipes from their travels.

Perhaps the thought of picking up a book is exhausting, and that's perfectly acceptable during an August reprieve. I love tearing through magazines, particularly when airborne, with earplugs intact, enjoying the transitory, inaccessible state of flight.

Readers of Gourmet magazine get an extra treat with this month's issue. Wrapped in a plastic bag, the August issue includes a 98-page supplement that editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl describes as "the most exciting project that we have ever worked on at Gourmet" in the supplement's table of contents.

A collection of 15 stories and essays penned by a mix of big literary (and not necessarily culinary) names - Pat Conroy, Jane Smiley, Ann Patchett -- and younger, lesser known voices -- Monique Truong ("The Book of Salt"), Junot Diaz ("Drown") and Thomas Beller ("How to Be a Man"), the supplement is a traveler's dream, with just enough teeth to sustain you through a flight or an afternoon at the beach.

One of the keeper features is a cartoon essay by children's author/illustrator Maira Kalman ("Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman") on breakfast. I'm looking for a way to frame it. One final note: you'll notice only four ads, all from Philips Electronic, hawking its "Sense and Simplicity" message.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 9, 2006; 11:24 AM ET Cook's Library
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You lost me at the beginning: life is just as busy outside the city, in case you haven't noticed. For us slothful suburban slackers, August is one of the best times of year to hit the cities--catch a Red Sox game, splurge on a ridiculously expensive meal, or breeze through the National Gallery without having to fight for space.

As for the books, they sound cute, but they hardly stack up to Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Italo Calvino, the classics, and page-turners.

Posted by: Suburbanite | August 9, 2006 5:21 PM

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