heads in bedsHave you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of hotels? What the front desk attendant, concierge, bellman, or housekeeping person is thinking as they check you in, follow you around, or clean up your room? Having spent a fair number of my summer vacations in hotel rooms, I was curious as a child what these people actually did at work and what they thought of everyone they came in contact with on a daily basis. Lucky for me, I found just the book to ease my curiosity: Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

Heads in Beds is written by Jacob Tomsky, a pseudonym the author adopted to keep his anonymity since he was, and is still, a member of the hotel industry at the time this book was released. Every hotel he worked for, as well as every person he worked with and each hotel guest, has a pseudonym, allowing Tomsky to go into great detail about everything that happens behind the scenes of hotels.

This book is a hilarious ride through Tomsky’s journey from a valet to manager to front desk attendant. Want to know how to get an upgrade? Tomsky tells you. How to get a late check out? Tomsky again. What about those pesky mini-bars and in-room movie fees? Tomsky knows all about those. He is full of tips and tricks about how to make the most out of whatever hotel stay you’re experiencing. Check out this book for glimpses into the inner workings of the hospitality business, what valets really do in your car, what goes on in empty rooms, and even why you should never turn down a bellman’s help.


This book is also available in the following formats:

what phil's havingI enjoy a good travel documentary, but what really hooks me in are the ones that focus on the local food that can be found and enjoyed when you are on vacation. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is what I would call a food travel documentary and definitely fulfilled my wish for more of a focus on food than the sites that you would see in a traditional travel documentary.

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having follows Emmy Award-winner Phil Rosenthal, the creator of the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond, as he travels around the world looking for fantastic food in various countries and cities. Phil visits six sites: Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and his hometown, Los Angeles. At each place, he seeks out what he thinks to be the world’s best food, looking for chefs, ground-breaking style-setters, and leaders in the culinary world to expand his palate and find places where both locals and tourists go to find the best food.

What I loved about this documentary is that Phil was looking for restaurants and chefs that both kept the food traditions of their communities alive and also were working to create new foods, ideas, and restaurants. He acknowledges that he looks for places that both tourists go to, but that going off the beaten path and looking for places that the locals know of will sometimes lead you on a new adventure.

This documentary caught and held my interest because of the wide variety of food he tested, the places he visited, and because of his hilarious commentary and facial expressions as he experienced anything new for the first time. He also gives tours of the famous and historical sites around as enticement for visiting the places that he is at as well. Highly recommended.

AtlantisMeet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City by Mark Adams

The Lost City of Atlantis.  One of the Western World’s most famous tales.  Many people dismiss the story as a myth.  But what is interesting about the story of Atlantis is that it was recorded by the great philosopher Plato and that he is the only written source on this story.  The debate over whether or not Atlantis is real or fiction stretches back to Plato’s death back in 347 BC!  Plato claimed that the story was true and the he heard the story from reputable sources.  However, even Plato’s famous student Aristotle expressed doubts about Atlantis being a real place with the quote, “He who invented Atlantis also destroyed it”.

Follow Mark Adams around the world as he interviews people that have studied the lost city of Atlantis.  Some people insist that Atlantis is a legitimate place and that they know the precise location of it.  Other people that speak with Mark Adams are scholars and are less inclined to believe that Atlantis was a real location.  Whether you personally believe in Atlantis or not, you cannot help but be fascinated by the theories that people come up with.

Mark Adams travels to various locations, being shown evidence and possibly proof, that Atlantis existed.  You may think this sounds tedious, but Adams is able to make his journey sound like an exciting adventure.  Much more exciting than Indiana Jones!  One of the first places that he visits is Ireland, home of the Atlantipedia.  The Atlantipedia is similar to Wikipedia, except in this case, the entire web site is devoted to information on Atlantis.  Of course, Mark eventually travels to the Mediterranean and to Greece, home of Plato.  On the way to Greece, he stops at the Straits of Gibraltar.  Many people believe that this is Plato’s site for the Pillars of Heracles.  And yet, some have placed the Pillars of Heracles in North America!

Even if the Lost City of Atlantis is not something that usually captures your attention, you will find yourself engrossed in this story.  After all, the city of Troy has been discovered.  PerhAtlantis2aps Atlantis really existed.  Maybe someone will uncover it.  Or, perhaps it has already been found but we need to find the evidence that links it to Plato’s story.  Anyone that loves the Classics, Greek Mythology, Archaeology, and/or adventure will enjoy this book.

Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City is available in print and in audiobook.

 

dior and iChristian Dior. Chanel. Givenchy. These names are only some of the legendary haute couture houses. Haute couture has a strict definition, but literally means high or elegant sewing. The Paris Chamber of Commerce protects haute couture by law and says that in order to be haute couture, you MUST follow a set of rules, rules that are clearly delineated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the association that approves you to be haute couture.

In Dior and I, viewers watch as, in 2012, the newly hired Artistic Director for Dior, Raf Simons, is given a short eight weeks to pull together his very first haute couture line. This documentary goes behind the scenes to show all of the intense labor and work that goes into making haute couture and how the introduction of a new Artistic Director, especially one with more of a ready-to-wear fashion background, added another level of difficulty to make sure the fitting for this new line would go smoothly. Dealing with a new Artistic Director who has his own ideas to bring to the table, juggling completing the line in time with the existing clients and their commissions, and working right up until the fitting brings stress and complications to the many pieces of the Dior fashion house that make sure everything runs smoothly.

Dior and I proves to be a stunningly beautiful documentary that provides a look into the history of Christian Dior through readings of his journals and also snapshots and film of the designer at work. This film is as much a homage to the fashion houses of old and the multi-talented seamstresses who have worked for Dior for years and who strive to bring the founder’s image and standards to life through every inch of fabric they touch on a day-to-day basis as it is also a glimpse into the future for the fashions to come. The combination of the classic and the new is a topic that runs throughout this documentary.

Watch along as all of the style elements from fashion to show design come together to introduce Raf Simons as the new Artistic Director of Christian Dior. (Interesting tidbit I found: Simons just announced he is leaving Dior leading to much speculation about why and who will replace him!)

rookie1.cover_webGet this book for any teen girl you know. Tavi’s online zine, Rookie Mag, has been collecting accolades since the fifteen-year-old blogger started it from her Midwestern bedroom. Tavi has been a respected style blogger since 2008, when she began her fashion blog Style Rookie at the tender age of eleven. Since then, she’s been invited to attend and review fashion shows all over the world, but it’s not just clothes anymore; this clever writer and all-around gifted young woman has created a magazine where teens can go for conversations with other teens about school, friends, music and movies, feminism, body image and self esteem, fashion, sex, and all the minutiae of teenage life that seems so monumental to those who are living it. She writes about the problems and the questions that real, modern teens have. She’s frank and funny and I wish I’d been even one-tenth as smart and confident as she is when I was a teenager. What I’m getting at is: here is a great, realistic role model. And a great book!

Rookie: Yearbook One is an ink & paper retrospective of the online magazine’s first year. It contains a lot of writing by Tavi, but it’s been touched by dozens of others; Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Aubrey Plaza, Joss Whedon, Patton Oswalt, and many others make appearances – either in pieces they’ve written for the magazine or as the subject of one of Tavi’s excellent interviews (I love how she is just as comfortable grilling Whedon about his modern-day interpretation of the sexual politics of “Much Ado About Nothing” as she is sharing a laugh with Plaza about how much they love the film “Reality Bites”). These are articles that matter, ideas that resonate, and interviews that are exciting and in-depth; it’s also lighthearted (you’ll love the section on how to cry without anyone catching you), and the graphic design of the book is phenomenal. If you have any taste for collage (and a little bit of the ridiculous) your eyes will pop at the juxtaposition of textures, photos, and hand-drawn illustrations. It’s just amazing, and I wish so much that I’d had it when I was a teenager!

beetle book“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” If your reaction to this fact is an uncomfortable mix of fascination and horror, get your hands on The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. In this fact-filled picture book (written for children, but hey, this twenty-something learned a lot reading it), there are big, beautiful illustrations of bugs: hissing cockroaches, June bugs, fireflies, dung beetles, ladybugs, and hundreds of other creepy crawlies – all of them beetles. The full-color bugs are set against ample white space and accompanied by thematically grouped facts. Small (or big!) all-black silhouettes on every page show the actual size of the beetles that have been magnified for illustrations. Staring down the five-inch mandibles of a six-spotted green tiger beetle gets a lot easier when its 3/4-inch-tall silhouette reminds you just how tiny the beast really is!

A few other great books for the budding naturalist or the latent scientist:

  • A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, an artistically illustrated look at the life cycle of a butterfly. Lots of facts and gorgeous images make this appropriate for all ages. (if you like this, look at her others: An Egg is Quiet, A Rock Is Lively, and A Seed is Sleepy)
  • Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder, a poem about the beauty and variety of nature illustrated with huge, zoomed-in photos of insects and plants.
  • You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, a rumination on the interconnectivity of nature and humanity accompanied by lovely, lighthearted illustrations.

In 1930, Agatha Christie married her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist, and spent many happy seasons accompanying him on his archeological digs in the Middle East. Her experiences with the people and the environment then became inspirations for many of her most famous novels including Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie wrote Come, Tell Me How You Live as response to the many people who asked her what it was like to travel around the cradle of civilization on her husband’s expeditions in Syria, Iraq and many other places.

I ADORE this book. From lamenting over her husband shoving books into her carefully packed crate at the last minute to becoming tongue-tied with feeling inferior while chatting with their architect to running out of her bedroom screaming due to being covered in mice and cockroaches (her husband recommended that she just go to sleep and then she wouldn’t notice them crawling over her…yeah right), I just found Agatha to be so lovely and Britishy and wonderful! She manages to be both neurotic yet brave, awkward yet charming, silly yet shrewd, much like a heroine in a Sophie Kinsella or Katie Fforde novel. Come, Tell Me How You Live is the perfect mixture of personal memoir and travel adventure and a fascinating snapshot of the relationship between European archeologists and the Middle Eastern peoples during the years between the wars. This little known book is a fun read for all armchair travelers and Agatha Christie fans.

You may have heard about the recent controversy surrounding the author John Lehrer and his book Imagine: How Creativity Works in which he has recently admitted to being creative with a few of the quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. Publisher Houghton Mifflin has stopped shipping the book and has asked bookstores to pull it from the shelves. However, the book is still available for check-out at the library if you would like to take a look and see what the fuss is about. Here is my review of the book which I wrote just a few weeks before the controversy broke:

Yup, a bathroom is the key to all great creative achievements. According to Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, Steve Jobs specifically designed the Pixar Building with one central restroom location so that all employees would find themselves in unexpected interactions throughout the day, and it is these random and often irrelevant conversations that occasionally led to the breakthroughs that have made Pixar one of the most creative and successful animation studios of all time.

Of course, there is much much more to Pixar’s creativity and success than just a bathroom, and there is much more to say about creativity than just Pixar’s way of achieving it. In Imagine, Jonah Lehrer divides his research into two parts: creative individuals and creative groups. I had chosen to read the book with hopes that the first part would inspire me to pick up my paintbrushes that I haven’t touched since college, but it was actually the second part of the book that really shook up my brains and excited me about the possibility of enacting on new creative practices in the library. A creative person can write a play, but a creative environment can create a William Shakespeare. (Lehrer’s section on how William Shakespeare never could have produced his work if he had been born in any other time or place, due to the support of theater and lax copyright enforcement, is absolutely fascinating.)

Overall, the book constantly enforces that every person is creative, but it can sometimes take drugs, mood changes, travel or even disease to get our creativity to bubble up and show itself. I highly recommend Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer to artists, writers, crafters, inventors, managers, business owners, and everyone interested in the science and magic behind mankind’s creative spirit.

These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.

  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.

Though first published in 1996, A Game of Thrones and its four sequels (collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire) have become a phenomenon in library hold queues of late thanks to HBO’s serial adaptation (season 2 premieres on April 1) and the summer ’11 release of the bestselling A Dance With Dragons. If you’re interested in the series but were turned off by the verbose visuals and relentless attention to detail, you are not alone. Try these titles for an alternative jaunt into gritty, political, and subtly-fantastical realms.

If you are intrigued by the era of Martin’s inspiration, England’s Wars of the Roses, try The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, or any of her rich historical novels set in a similar time period, including The Red Queen (a direct sequel), The Other Boleyn Girl, and The Other Queen. For a factual (but nonetheless exciting) version of the story, try Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses.

Part of the appeal of Martin’s work is the very small part that magic and fantasy play in the narrative. If you appreciate that ratio, consider The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, in which a modern woman is embroiled in the continuing high-stakes mystery of Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula). Another tale of subtle magic is Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which explores the lives a Southern family with a unique talent for growing (and using) magical plants in a successful catering business.

If the gripping political drama of a royal family pulls you in, but the fantasy elements are off putting, you’ll love Bernard Cornwell, whose Arthur books (beginning with The Winter King) make the mythic saga fresh, exciting, and utterly believable.

If you enjoy gritty fantasy but not a lot of length, consider The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch or The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. Both are #1 in their respective serials, but can be enjoyed individually. Additionally, they each still come in very far below the page count Martin sets. In hardcover, A Song of Ice and Fire numbers 4,223 pages in total – a truly intimidating figure. By contrast, Abercrombie’s entire trilogy numbers only 1,810, and Lynch’s tale wraps up in a snappy 752.