Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If you've ever wished you could hire someone for a good argument, or dispute the health of a parrot, or felt the irresistible urge to get from point A to B via a funny walk, you can thank John Cleese.  His memoir So Anyway . . . chronicles his life from his upbringing in a small English seaside town, to his worldwide fame as a comedian in Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.

Cleese was born when his parents were already in their 40s.  He describes them as overprotective and suggests this was the reason he was somewhat reserved and "unmanly" during his youth.  The family surname had started out as "Cheese" but his father changed it when he enlisted in World War I (although Cleese says this didn't stop him from being called Cheese during his school years).  His father was calm, patient and kind but his mother could be unpredictable, difficult and anxious.  Therefore, he had a hard time with his relationships to women throughout his life.

The book details his early days at a boys school, where he was a day pupil rather than a boarder.  Eventually he discovered a love and talent for cricket, which helped him find his place in school.  He eventually went to Cambridge, originally to study science but later switching to law.  Before he started his university studies, he taught history to elementary school boys, an experience he greatly enjoyed.  While at Cambridge, he became involved in the Footlights committee, a theatrical group, and really got his start writing and performing comedy.  He still intended to make a career in law, but  after meeting Graham Chapman, he changed direction.

He goes on to describe his years in television and his collaboration with other entertainment greats such as his fellow Monty Python actors, Peter Sellers and David Frost.  He also discusses his meeting and work with his first wife, Connie Booth, known to TV audiences as the long suffering maid Polly in Fawlty Towers.  The book basically ends as Monty Python gets started, but there is an afterward where Cleese discusses the reunion shows that the surviving members performed in 2013.  They were unsure of the reception they'd receive, but the fact that they were able to sell out all the shows is a testament to the enduring fondness the public has for the zany antics of the Python crew.

This book is an interesting look at how a comedy legend got his start.  It is told in an amusing, self-depreciating way, and is quite entertaining. Perhaps the details of his career leading up to forming the Python group are a bit too long, but overall, for anyone who is a fan, this is a pleasant visit with someone who feels like a somewhat eccentric uncle.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of So Anyway . . . from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

With the holidays coming around, many people will be getting ready to prepare special foods for friends and family.  While there are certainly family favorites that will be prepared time and time again, every table can benefit from a new recipe or two.  Whitney Miller's New Southern Table features recipes from the Masterchef winner's family as well as inspiration from her world travels.

The book as all the usual categories, including Breakfast, Sunday Dinners and "Somethin' Sweet," as well as directions for preparing "Essentials and Enhancers" (such things as ketchup, various types of pesto and peanut butter).  There's also a helpful section titled "My Southern Pantry" that includes staple items that everyone should have on hand.

The recipes include such favorites as Turkey Potpie, Fried Green Tomatoes and Pork Ribs.  Many of the recipes have been tweaked to include lower fat/sugar/calorie options from ones Miller grew up enjoying (such as using olive oil to make biscuits).

Most of the recipes include delicious-looking photos of the finished dishes to entice would-be cooks to get busy!  There are also a large number of photos of the author's family (some identified by captions -- I just assume the non-captioned photos contain members of her family).  If you aren't related to her, I fail to see the appeal of all the photos.  Each recipe is introduced with a small explanation of why it's included or how she's updated a recipe (again, lots of "I remember back when my grandma . . ." type asides thrown in that will be of limited appeal to those outside her inner circle).

Overall, it's a very nice cookbook, with appealing recipes that don't require a lot of specialized ingredients or equipment (she recommends using a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off for piping, for instance).  Plenty of substitutions are included as well, in case every ingredient isn't to your liking.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Whitney Miller's New Southern Table from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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