Tag: food

Three questions for… Simon Winder

Winder GermaniaSimon Winder has just published a personal and highly entertaining history of Germany and the Germans. In his preface to Germania, he writes:

“[this] is an attempt to tell the story of the Germans starting from their notional origins in the sort of forests enjoyed by gnomes and heroes and ending at the time of Hitler’s seizure of power.”

He admits up-front that Germany is “a sort of Dead Zone” for English-speaking visitors today, unless they happen to have a professional reason for being there. But Simon’s spirited and idiosyncratic exploration of the highways and many of the byways of German history may well be able to change that. It’s certainly a long time since a book on German history made me laugh aloud in public as this one did.

An audio interview is coming soon. In the mean time, as an appetiser, here is Simon’s contribution to our “Three Questions for…” series.

Books of the Decade – Roland Chambers

Roland ChmabersRoland Chambers studied film and literature in Poland and at New York University before returning to England in 1998. His first biography, The Last Englishman, won a Jerwood award from the Royal Society of Literature, and draws on his experience both as a children’s author and as a private investigator specializing in Russian politics and business. He currently divides his time between London and Connecticut.

You can hear my audio interview with Roland by clicking here.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Oscar WaoA fat, fantasy and science fiction nerd spread-eagled between New Jersey, his grandma in the Dominican Republic, and the voodoo of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Messiah-cum-sacrificial cow, Oscar is devastating, as is his author, Junot Diaz: brilliance on every level.

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi: PersepolisA so-called graphic novel (it’s an autobiography) which gives Iran since the Revolution through the childhood, adolescence and coming of age of Marji, author of perhaps the most influential comic since Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Pollan: Omnivore's DilemmaPollan shows how far we are from what we eat, how much of it either is or relies upon a single crop, how consuming that crop is like drinking petrol, and why American rednecks call their arseholes cornholes. The trick is understanding what’s for lunch.

28. The Life of a Roman Town

Mary Beard: PompeiiHow easy is it to get an insight into the life of the ancient Romans from a visit to the remains of Pompeii today? How much of what we see is even Roman, and how much is recent reconstruction?

What did the Romans really think about sex? And what did they believe in a world on the cusp of embracing Christianity? And did they really eat dormice?

Click on the link above to hear writer, broadcaster, blogger extraordinaire and Cambridge professor of Classics, Mary Beard tackle all these questions and more.

You can also hear Mary talking about the Roman triumph in podcast 15: The Big Parade.

8. A Philosopher in Everytown

Julian Baggini Philosophy can seem the most cerebral and abstract of disciplines. So what would happen if a philosopher stepped out of his study and ’embedded’ himself in an ordinary (but unfamiliar) community in his own country and tried to work out whether the English people have anything which could reasonably be called a philosophy?

That’s exactly the challenge that Julian Baggini set himself in 2005, when he left his comfort zone in Bristol and moved to Rotherham, which, it turns out, is as typical as you can hope to find of how the English live now.

We met this month to coincide with the paperback publication of his account of his sojourn, Everytown, and I asked him how his assumptions about what he would find had matched up to reality. Here’s the list he made as he travelled north:

Everytown cover‘On the train, I jotted down a list of values and characteristics I expected to find, making no attempt to mask my prejudices. I thought there would be toleration for difference, but no real love for it, and only as long as it is not perceived as threatening. There would be provincialism. People’s aspirations would be modest, or else for superficial things like fame or wealth. The best life would be comfortable and fun.

People would think religion was for weirdos and philosophy for boffins. Anti-intellectualism would be rife. People would have their philosophies of life, which would be simple but true: be thankful for what you’ve got, make the most of what you have; time waits for no man.

Although in behaviour most people would be sexually liberal, most still want to be married and think that children deserve two married parents. There would be a thin line between having some youthful fun and being a slag. Homophobia would be normal.

Despite the talk of a national culinary renaissance, people would still eat badly and the ‘best restaurant around’ would be rubbish…’