I have discovered something about myself: I only like to write positive book reviews. A few months or so ago, someone very nice sent me a wine book to review, and all I kept thinking as I read it was how I would have done it so much differently, and how it didn't really apply to me (there was a wine quiz in the back, and I already knew most of the answers, and when I gave the quiz to Husband, he pointed out all of the flaws). Nonetheless, I felt bad writing a bad review of it, because, well, I'm a writer, and I'm sure that person had the best intentions and really thought their book was good. It was even featured on Good Food. It's just that, when you live with someone like Husband, most "beginner" wine books seem like a joke. So, thanks for the free book, but I just can't bring myself to trash it.
Okay! Now on with my review of Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. You may be asking yourself, why is she writing a review of a book that came out over a year ago? Because I'm cheap, that's why! If it isn't discounted in hardcover, I won't buy it until it comes out in paperback. So there! When I waited on a woman who was reading this in paperback, I ran to Barnes & Noble and snatched it up. I wish I could say I ran to my local independent, but I didn't. I'm sorry, Liberty Books & News.
So, say you do something - cook, write, play the violin, paint, whatever. Do you ever come across someone who does it so much better than you that you briefly think of never picking up your tongs again? That's how I felt reading this book. Like a lot of people in the restaurant business, I devoured Kitchen Confidential when it came out, along with A Cook's Tour. At first, I thought Bourdain was maybe just a swaggering, testosterone-filled kitchen miscreant with a slightly hyperbolic writing style and an insatiable lust for life. I was completely right then, and it's okay. Bourdain's embrace of himself as exactly what he is, and his continued, eyes-wide-open bemusement at his luck in life and his continued success makes me really, really like him.
What makes Anthony Bourdain a particularly good writer - aside from his wit, humor, bitterness, love/loathing of humanity and celebrity chefs - is his effortless prose; the way his voice comes through his writing and off the page. It's almost as though you are listening to a recording.
There are a lot of food and travel writers who don't deserve to be paid for what they do, quite frankly. Nothing is more irritating than reading a holier-and more well-heeled-than-thou writer who writes from a lofty, all-knowing vantage point, here to grace you with their knowledge. When reading AB, however, you feel the same excitement as each adventure unfolds. He never hesitates to write about his embarrassing moments - groaning in ecstasy whilst dining at Masa, finding Bobby Flay's restaurant in Vegas strangely okay, being constantly drunk and full of distressed bowels. AB is willing to be ambivelant about certain subjects - so-called "molecular gastronomy," dining in Vegas as a whole, celebrity chefs, but takes a firm stand on things close to the hearts of those in the restaurant industry - he really wants the world to know that it isn't the celbrity chef who is cooking your food, it's most likely a man from Mexico or Central America with questionable immigration status. I love how he outright declares hatred the raw food movement and decries Woody Harrelson for spending time in Thailand and refusing to eat anything but raw fruit.
Sometimes, reading Anthony Bourdain, I wonder if people who aren't in the restaurant business really "get" what he's writing about. Can you really understand essays like "System D" if you've never had to rectify a nasty situation on the fly, with only your wits? I suppose this doesn't only happen in the restaurant business, but I think it helps to have a few years in a restaurant under your belt. I think everyone should have a few years in the restaurant business under their belts, they'd certainly be a better person for it, but I digress.
This is a collection of works that spans a few years, and at the end, there are a few new words on each essay, offering a little insight into the thought process behind each piece. The writer is really, really funny, totally perverse and irrevrant at times, and occassionally completely awestruck at what the world has to offer. It's great fun to be taken along on a ride with an ex-junkie, completely cynical New Yorker (from the old, crack-and-hooker-laden Times Square New York, mind you), and sit next to him as he enjoys an island meal, toes stuck in sand, and remarks that food does, indeed, taste better when one is barefoot.
Some people might find Bourdain's writing offensive - there's no shortage of foul language and R rated imagery, but for anyone who's been toughened by years of listening to fierce servers and line cooks string together a line of cleverly worded, profanity laden insults a mile long, it's a joy.