Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Diary of a Predator" by Amy Herdy

This book was hard for me to read, and this review is hard for me to write. I don't write very many reviews, as you can see, because with all the books I see day in and day out, not many of them end up stopping me in my tracks. But reading about sexual assault from the viewpoint of the perpetrator stoked my curiosity. I think there are a lot of people like me out there who wish they could understand a little more about why horrible things happen in the world. I took an entire history course on Hitler in college just so I could try and wrap my mind around WHY someone would be so cruel. It was emotionally exhausting. I still don't understand it, but I don't think that Hitler is Satan either. That's easy and dangerous thinking. Anytime one person believes that another person is less than human, no matter what, I think it's dangerous.

I'm not sure I believe in evil. If you steadfastly believe that people are either good or evil, then you might struggle with the facets of humanity revealed in Amy Herdy's book. As a crime reporter formerly with the Denver Post, she recounts the horrific events surrounding the attacks and eventual capture of Brent Brents in Denver and the Front Range. I'll tell you, it was very difficult and taxing to read through the descriptions of what Brents inflicted upon his victims. But learning about the humanity behind the person most people would call an evil monster was fascinating, comforting, and instructive.

The book has been available in our stores for over a week now, and after I placed it in our Rocky Mountain Authors display, I noticed that someone had been deliberately turning the book over so that the back cover faced out. The picture on the front is of Brents, 13 years old, summer-day shirtless and looking afraid. It's not graphic by a censor's standards, surely I've seen plenty of shirtless boys running around in summertime Water World or Elitch's commercials. But I know why people are turning it over. It's the same reason I had to cover up the cover with a folded sheet of paper while reading. Most of us navigate our world and each other with non-verbal signals. And there is a very strong non-verbal signal emanating from that picture. It says, "I'm hurt, I'm scared, I've been wronged, I've been violated." That's really hard to face, really hard to deal with.

So when I find the book overturned again, I sigh, and turn it back around, because I believe that as Americans, we must face each other bravely, and thereby commit to tolerance and understanding. Amy Herdy and Brent Brents wrote the book together (Brents wrote through letters from prison) in the hope that no one else will endure such suffering again at the hands of another human being. But the message here is that when one person hurts another, both are hurt. And it's so unnecessary.

Who will buy this book? I think it's a great book for teachers to have on hand at home. People who work in education would do well to understand the process behind the making of a sexual predator. Educators play an important role in recognizing and identifying victims and perpetrators early on in the life of the person in question. I also think that people who are involved in the fields of sociology, psychology, and journalism would benefit from having a copy stashed on their bookshelves. Journalists may take heart from knowing Ms. Herdy's experience and her struggles with balancing a home life and a career that trod some very disturbing paths. Social workers and therapists might be able to synthesize their work with the steps that could have been taken to prevent Brents from being victimized and ending up in prison for life.

And readers like me, well, they approach the topic with curiosity, fearful and wishing to learn enough to stay safe. Readers like me want to do whatever they can to NOT become victims themselves. So they prepare, they educate, they observe, they "trust their gut" as Herdy would say, and they remember that there is good in everyone. So they keep this book on their shelf to remind them to recognize and honor goodness EVERYWHERE it is found.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Books As Business - From Barbara Vey

Greetings, Rocky Mountain Authors! I just read a very helpful blog article and I wanted to pass it along to you. Check out the comments at the bottom - I think that the discussion of the topic is just as valuable as the exposition of the topic itself! Read on:


Enjoy and best of luck in your publishing endeavors!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beyond the Sauce: Beyond the Comfort Zone - Finale

Here it is, folks, the moment you've all been waiting for.

I know you've been digesting that Thanksgiving dinner for a whole week, salivating over the possible outcomes you've imagined for my cooking experiment. And now you're going to know the truth about how I fared when pitted against the venerable Vesta recipe tome.

All in all, I'd call it a success.

I made...the "Mixed Beet Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese Salad" as a side dish or vegetable to go along with our family's otherwise store-bought meal of honey ham and pumpkin pie. This recipe consists of red and yellow beets, candied walnuts, and a sage tempura with a pumpkin vinaigrette. Oh, and let's not forget the divine and ridiculously expensive Humboldt Fog goat cheese, one of the only cheeses that the United States exports (out of California, I believe.) Ooh la la. Sounds pretty good, right? It should, it's a Vesta recipe.

Now, let's just get the failings of my labors out of the way. First of all, because my sage leaves were WAY too small to be deep-fried in oil for the tempura, there was no sage tempura. Although I did sprinkle sage over my beets to finish. (Matt Selby, if you're reading, perhaps it's best if you stop now, before you subject yourself to any more carnage of your creations.)

Failing #2 occurred with the beets. Um, they were kind of crunchy. Let's just say they didn't goo all over their plates like the ones that come out of a can do. Maybe that's a good thing.

These beets were FRESH. So fresh, they still had farm soil on them when I removed them from the refrigerator. Straight out of the ground, they came. And then they were smartly poached in a nice subtle chardonnay. Just like Vesta told me to.

I began my adventure by doing something I could never have pictured myself doing: candying walnuts. I have to say, the candied walnuts were the masterpiece of this salad. I really nailed the technique. I observed that frying the sugared walnuts in oil was somewhat similar to making Danish Aebleskiver (which, even though I don't cook, is required cooking knowledge in my family). So the Dane in me came out and candied those little guys good. Vikings ahoy. A week later we're still guiltily munching on those leftover sweets.

Then I tackled the beets. It was a little frightening, truth be told. Those suckers have lots of...tentacles. I think they might be related to marine vegetables. Once I conquered the hairs and squiggles, and scrubbed off all the delicious dirt, the beets made their way to the chardonnay jacuzzi. And there they sat. Vesta told me to poach them for 20 minutes. After a half hour of poking and staring and lip-biting, I left 'em in for another 10 minutes. Then I made the executive decision that they must be done.

Ay, there's the rub! Those beets knew darn well when they were going to be done soaking in their chardonnay bubble bath and by gum, they weren't done yet. But it was too late. They were already chilling in the fridge while I prepared a pumpkin vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar, pumpkin puree, turmeric, and lemon juice.

The end result was almost delicious. Festive, tangy vinaigrette dressing, walnuts to satisfy even a Danish sweet tooth, a sumptuous spoil-yourself goat cheese wedge, and sage lightly dusted over...not-so-soft beets. Bummer.

My eating companions were good sports. They poked, they prodded, they dashed into the kitchen for sharper knife reinforcements, and they gnawed, poor things. They adored the cheese, and enthusiastically dove for the softer beet bites. I can see how this salad is delicious...when Matt Selby makes it.

But like I said...I don't cook. The whole experience certainly made for an exciting and unique Thanksgiving dinner experience, one that I think everyone at the table appreciated.

I'm not sure if I'll be stretching my cooking legs again anytime soon. I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the complexity of the craft that these masters practice daily. Anyway, I'd much rather sit in their restaurant and feast my senses on their creations, works of art that they've honed to perfection. Yes, this bookseller is still a foodie. And definitely still NOT a cook.

But for one shining moment, this book gave me entree (pun intended) into the world of the true culinary artists. That's what I love about books. They transport you into worlds you never thought possible. Cheers. And here's to you, Vesta.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beyond the Sauce, Beyond the Comfort Zone - Part I

I do not cook. Anyone with less than a degree of separation from me can tell you that my standard idea of cooking involves the microwave or toaster, frozen waffles, a box of macaroni and cheese or a can of soup, and a single pot of water in which to boil boring noodles. From a cooking perspective, I am a college co-ed.

So I tend to regard the cookbooks I see with the same indifference in which I regard international building code books. Not my area/bailiwick/fach. Beautiful as they may be, I will gladly pass them on to the cooks among us.

But, my friends, I have been tempted. And now I find myself cracking open one of the newest local cookbooks to hit the Tattered Cover shelves: "Vesta Dipping Grill: Beyond the Sauce", by chef Matt Selby and owner Josh Wolkon.

How was this accomplished? How could it happen that a lazy water-boiling waffle-toasting scoundrel like me would be thumbing through pages describing the preparation of foie gras and ahi tuna?

Well, this particular cookbook is the signature tome of a local restaurant. And if there's one thing I ADORE about food, it's when other people cook it for me.

And recently, Selby's chef team at Vesta Dipping Grill did just that. (Note: Vesta is a neighbor of the Tattered Cover's, located just a few blocks east of our LoDo store on 18th and Blake streets.) A friend and I spent our evening strolling through the colorful, sensational halls of Selby's tasting menu. Our tour began with smoked venison sausage presented with hudson barrel onions and roasted garlic crema. We savored the ginger chili seared tuna with arugula, white soy, and yuzu syrup. And when it came to deciding which of Vesta's famous sauces went best with the herb grilled Colorado lamb loin (served with truffled farro, bacon, mustard greens, and dried berry chutney), we could wordlessly agree on the cilantro mint pesto. This foodie was in heaven. Selby has skillfully crafted compositions of taste that are as complex and intricately beautiful as a Baroque fugue. Layers of flavor dance and merge to form wondrous, quiet counterpoint.

After such a sumptuous meal (seven small tasting courses in all were a perfect fit for our ladylike bellies), you might think it would be even harder for me to hit the showers, er, kitchen, roll up my sleeves, and actually cook something. But I have a persuasive factor motivating me to try out this Vesta book.

Thanksgiving dinner.

If I don't cook a fabulous side dish for this holiday, I will be subjecting my small family to my mother's frozen bags of vegetables. Frozen. Vegetables. I mean, really. Is there a comparison? Vesta, or frozen "veggies". Laughable. My mother doesn't really like to cook either. It's hereditary. We've ordered a nice honey ham for the entree that somebody else has lovingly prepared for us (along with thousands of other identical honey hams).

So, dear readers, I've got my copy of "Beyond the Sauce". I will be visiting the grocery store sometime in the next 24 hours to purchase adequate Vesta-food-preparing supplies. I am going to dive headlong into the cooking fire, to save my family, to save Thanksgiving dinner, from...frozen vegetables (I can barely type the words).

Eating at Vesta made our ordinary evening a special occasion. So I'm going to see if I can make a special occasion feel like eating at Vesta. Stay tuned. I'll be letting you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you care to infuse a little LoDo glitz into your Turkey Day, you better get down to the Tattered Cover and grab a copy of "Beyond the Sauce" before we close for the holiday.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Supposed to" or not, Kate and Shawn got their Big View

When you read the new biography "I Am Not Supposed to Be Here" by Kate and Shawn Rickel, you don't believe your eyes. You read about the terribly traumatizing motorcycle accident, and the miraculous survival story, and you even see the pictures of the people who went though it all in living color. And you still don't believe.

Maybe in order to believe, you just have to see her for yourself. Because Kate lost a major section of her brain tissue (the section that governs speech and language) in that motorcycle accident. Once you've read about the collapsing brain stem, the coma, the endless trips to Spalding Center in Colorado and the Mayo Clinic, the macabre deterioration of a normal, happy woman...no one would expect a human being to endure all of that and survive.

So I found myself at Big View Ranch, just west of Denver in the foothills, to see the ultimate miracle: the woman who refused certain death, surrounded by her realized dreams. Big View Ranch is home to an equine therapy program for the disabled and recovering, founded by the co-authors of "I Am Not Supposed to Be Here." Shawn and Kate Rickel, now married, had only been dating for three months before the accident. But already they knew that they shared a passion for horses and the therapeutic, healing tendencies of animals. That passion bonded them as they battled to heal Kate's life-threatening injuries and gave them a light at the end of a tunnel filled with dead-end doctors' appointments and perplexed surgeons.

Immediately upon opening their book, my heart had invested in this story, and in the few hours during which the book was wholly devoured, I sat at the edge of the story like a family member in a hospital waiting room, chewing on my fingernails and praying for the best. Of course, the beaming sunlit lady on the book cover gives away the ending, but that doesn't diminish one's amazement at the adversity overcome by unconditional love and faith.

"I Am Not Supposed to Be Here" allows the reader to step outside of one's daily dramas, which seem so important, and be humbled by the preciousness of life. My copy of this book will stay on the shelf close by, waiting for a time when I think I have a big problem, to remind me that I, too, can endure, survive and emerge resurrected from whatever ashes befall me.

And in watching Kate walk away, back to her re-opened equine therapy clinic, in full swing with helmet-clad children on horseback, I'll tell you what I believe: Colorado is a pretty perfect place to start all over.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Eyes Have It: Applause for an "Artobiography"

I've heard it said that great art is generated out of conflict or tension. With that in mind, I'll introduce readers to one of my all-time favorite local author works, an "artobiography" by Boulder author and artist Tina Collen.

One of our Tattered Cover customers described it well as I showed her the book: "oh my, you can't read this on a (insert brand name of e-reader here)." If a person saw an online image of the book, it might not leap upon one's face screaming "read me" in neon blinking lights.

No, this book is a sensual experience, a pop-up for the grown-up aesthetic explorer, and from the moment one lifts it from the shelf it commands one's touch, sight, smell...a cohesive involvement of all humors.

"Storm of the i" is, in a sense, The Collen Museum of History. Precious artifacts from this woman's life are arranged and exhibited to delight and fascinate patrons. Collen herself is a thorough and patient curator, leading us all along the written hallways and corridors of her opus, gesturing quietly to the pieces which provide illustration yet leave us wondering. One feels certain of the presence of a master artist, as one witnesses page after page of highly professional, emotional writing coupled with the brilliant gems of a stellar graphic career.

By the end of my impeccably printed-and-bound museum visit, I have so many feelings. Did I just sit down with my friend and hear all her stories while cuddling up to her photo albums? Did I just walk out of a prestigious gallery, awed by the sights within? Did I just experience the loss of a loved one, painfully cataloguing all the joys and sufferings while cleaning out a house? Collen's book allowed me to experience each of these events simultaneously.

And what a magnificent work of art it is, which invites me to thrill in the depth of human experience and reflect upon my own humanity. Brava, Madame Collen.