Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Baking Powder Wars by Linda Civitello

I admit to not knowing much about baking powder because I am not a big baker. I like to eat baked goods, but if I'm going to bake something, there's a good chance that a mix will be involved (not even a baking class helped). But, I like reading and eating so food history is something that I am interested in reading. The only thing is, I don't really find many books about this topic.

Baking Powder Wars fills a little gap in my huge chasm of ignorance about the history of food. Although it starts off as a history of baking and the troubles that women have traditionally had making bread and other baked goods, the bulk of the book focuses on the companies that made baking powder. Basically, baking powders were marketed as ways for women to successfully make bread and other things involving yeast with much less effort, and in an age where a women's abilities were (at least in part) measured by how well they baked, this must have been a lifesaver to them. But since it was so new, how could they figure out which brand to buy?

And this is how the marketing wars began. From what I understand, the big companies used different types of baking powder - phosphate and aluminium and they used every way they could to exploit the difference for their own gain.

To be honest, I found the marketing aspect a lot less interesting than the history of baking (whoops, not being a very good economics student here). I found the recipes and the snippets of how life was for women back then fascinating and if anyone knows a book that focuses on that aspect, please let me know!

I would recommend this to people who are interested in the history of brands and the (relatively) unknown history behind everyday products. If you're interested in marketing and brands trying to get favourable legislation passed, you'll love this, but even people who are just interested in the cooking will find something to like (mainly at the start of the book, but there are snippets everywhere).

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Anatomy of Murder by the Detection Club

This is my second Detection Club book and I liked it a lot more than the first one I read (while was Ask a Policeman). Unlike Ask a Policeman, which was a round robin novel, this is a collection of true crime stories written by notable crime writers. To be honest I only recognise Dorothy Sayers because I'm not that well read and tend to stick to a few authors but I really enjoyed all the stories here.

The cases covered here are:

Death of Henry Kinder, written by Helen Simpson
Constance Kent by John Rhode
The Case of Adelaide Bartlett by Margaret Cole
An Impression of the Landru Case by E. R. Punshon
The Murder of Julia Wallace by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Rattenbury Case by Francis Iles
A New Zealand Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts

Out of all the cases, the only one that I've heard of is the one about Constance Kent, and only because I've been wanting to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (round of applause for me remembering an author's name)

Each author has their own take on the story but they generally recap the case and then add their views on it. And I'm really amazed that they fit it into a few pages because they felt like really good recaps. I would have read a book about each case.

This makes me a lot more eager to continue reading more from the Detection Club and their members. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of mystery and/or true crime. There is also a bibliography if you want to read more.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I haven't re-read this in ages but yesterday's book reminded me of it and luckily, it was on the the books that I brought over to Japan with me.

Used and Rare is the story of how the two authors got into book collecting. It all starts with a bet to see who can get the better birthday present within a budget. Nancy gets a lovely hardback copy of War and Peace and that not only allows her to win the bet, but sparks an interest in used books.

At first, they are content with lovely copies of hardbacks and don't care about whether it's a rare book (in fact, they avoid rare books because they think it's overpriced). But then they find a first edition of a book that's 'haunted' them for years and that gets them interested in rare books and points of issue.

Points of issue are basically the things (like typos and other mistakes) that differentiate one book from another. And apparently, you can differentiate between a first edition first printing and a second printing from it because you can't just rely on the words 'first edition'.

What makes this book interesting is the way they mix personalities and books. The dealers are interesting folk and I'd love to meet them, and the books are discussed in a way that was informative and did not interrupt the flow of the narrative. The only 'major' thing I disagree with them is that I liked Modern Book Collecting and didn't find the prose dry.

Re-reading this reminded me that this was the book that first introduced me to Josephine Tey, and contributed to the "TBR pile that may never be read" (especially books that aren't popular today). And I still want to read them - I just have to find them first. Perhaps I should go to Project Gutenberg and see if any of the books are there.

This makes me want to re-read The Yellow Lighted Bookshop and The King's English, both books about bookselling and books that I also brought over to Japan (it's amazing that I didn't go over the luggage limit). The only thing is that I have a pile of books (and ARCs from NetGalley) that I haven't read.

Still, if you're a fan of stories and books, you'll enjoy this. The author's love of books and stories shine through and it is an easy and fairly informative read.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Book Collecting by Robert A. Wilson

To start with something completely unrelated to the book, I now enjoy lunch on my own. I get time to read and play phone games without being rude, and half an hour reading time is quite valuable nowadays. So the previous book I read (Once Upon a Spine), though it was not my favourite read, made me want to read more about collecting books. So I picked up Modern Book Collecting, which is actually in my NLB TBR list.

So I have always liked the idea of collecting books. And while I think this book is the most practical book I've seen on how to get started (got to go and check because I think I own a book on the experiences collecting books?), it has also convinced me that I'm not going to be a serious collected. Most of the time, I'm fine with owning an ebook. The medium doesn't matter as much as the story.

Most of the time.

In certain cases, I get emotionally attached to covers and then I must get those. Like the Graveyard Book (had to get the edition that I first read - I think on ROCS? Can't remember but for some reason I love that cover), Fahrenheit 451 (Sec 3 and 4 lit book!) and a scant few others, none of which are first editions. So I shall happily resign myself to just amassing books rather than being a collector.

That said, this was a fascinating and easy read (plus each chapter is relatively short so I picked it up whenever I had time and finished it in two days). The author clearly loves books and it shows through the numerous stories that he has about his collection. He's also no book snob, which I appreciate.

The book (now we finally get to the book!) covers topics like what to collect (by author, by topic, etc), the merits of collecting unknown authors, the best ways of buying books (dealers vs authors vs secondhand shops and thrift stores), how to identify first editions, and even if books are worth it as an investment. And there's even a look into how a book is made (not sure how accurate it is now) which I found fascinating.

One thing I picked up is that it's very rare to find an undervalued book in a second hand bookstore because the owners tend to know if stuff is valuable, but it's possible to do so in a thrift shop/garage sale, especially if the people in charge aren't familiar with the value of books. Of course, things might have changed because this book is probably more than 30(?) years old.

Oh and this book actually has illustrations about the parts of the book so I actually can follow what the author is talking about. The information on how books can get damaged and the discussion on how to store them will probably be useful to any book lover, because no one wants to see their precious books disintegrate.

The fifth appendix is a list of internet resources (not sure if it's a recent edition but yay) so I will be checking that out. Especially the one that seems to be a sort of guide - lists I'll probably skip.

This book has made me want to read more about collecting books and serious collectors, even though my own collection will only be for reading and sentimental purposes.