Monday, January 9, 2017

Very Little Appreciation From This Reviewer

Wine Appreciation Freeway GuideWine Appreciation Freeway Guide by Robin Stark
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I don't know if all Free Guides are as bad as this, but I'm not planning on finding out, not if I can help it.

Wine Appreciation Freeway Guide is an audiobook meant to wile away the rage-inducing commute by imparting tidbits of wine info. Instead it incites revolt, as in, I am revolted by their hokey attempts at humor and the looow production values.

It's only about an hour long and yet a quarter of it is taken up by the intro and unnecessary explanations. A variety of voice "talent" is used to "liven things up" (are you catching my sarcasm, 'cause I'm laying it on pretty thick), but the actors have naturally annoying voice tics and/or they ham things up too much with the broadest of broad comedy. The wine expert Robin Stark speaks with a sharp, grating tone and plays along with the shenanigans, when she probably should've put her foot down and said, "No, this is shit and you all know it's shit, so cut it out."

What's even more embarrassing for this supposedly professional production is their LIBERAL use of the free sound clips and songs that come with Apple computers. I've used these jingles and sound effects for my home videos when editing with iMovies on my laptop, so I'm quite familiar with them, but for christsake, I'd never slap a price tag on them and try to foist them upon the public!

Okay, so I've beaten the Wine Appreciation Freeway Guide pretty brutally so far. Now let me cut it some slack by saying that it's not all bad. Most of this tells you what many intro-to-wine-for-noobs guides are saying these days: the taste of wine is subjective, so drink what you like.
However, I actually did learn a little bit about wine, more specifically corks, "corked wine" and what it all means: Bacteria grows on the cork and screws the flavor, so they store the bottles on their sides and thus the alcohol stays in contact with the cork and prevents bacteria! Once wine purists/traditionalists get over themselves and give up the cork, my cork knowledge will become obsolete. Until then, bring on the pub quiz!

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Something to Chew On

Food: A Love StoryFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If aliens studied Earth, they would come to the conclusion that the United States is somehow consuming food on behalf of other countries.

And so begins Comedian Jim Gaiffigan's Food: A Love Story. Actually, that's not how it begins. I just thought the quote sounded almost philosophical, plus I wanted to use the grandiose "And so begins...." I could have just as well started with...

I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.

...because that, my friend, is fact!

Gaffigan loves food. If you've ever watched one of his comedy specials this will soon become apparent. Food usually makes its way into his routine sooner or later, and his skewering of Hot Pockets has become legendary. No doubt the big success of his previous book pushed him into doing a second book, and so why not do one solely about food?

Gaffigan's a casual eater, not a connoisseur. He's not even obese, he's merely overweight. So why should we care what he has to say about food? Because he's funny, that's why. Disagree with me? Then you can just get out! Go on, this review ain't big enough for the two of us!

Food: A Love Story is not knock-you-over-the-head funny from start to finish. It's got a conversational tone, especially if you listen to the audiobook, which I always suggest when reading a comedian's book. Yeah, you may know their voice, but inflection is of paramount importance and you're not as clever in that regard as you think you are. But anyway, my point was, if you came purely for the punchlines you will be disappointed. The book isn't joke after joke, it's more like this:

It would be embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country. “Yeah, the appetizer—that’s the food we eat before we have our food. No, no, you’re thinking of dessert—that’s food we have after we have our food. We eat tons of food. Sometimes there’s so much we just stick it in a bag and bring it home. Then we throw it out the next day. Maybe give it to the dog."

Of course this book isn't as funny as his stand-up. Comedians work really hard to come up with an hour's worth of material, which they tour with for often a year. Here we have six hours of material written for this book. I doubt he wrote it with the idea that he'd do a six year tour with it.

Gaffigan isn't a particularly healthy eater. Junk food fills these pages like it fills our guts and the deepest, darkest places of our empty souls...

You ever talk to an old person? I mean a really, really old person. They always have this exhausted look on their face that says, I can’t believe I’m still here! I would’ve eaten so much more ice cream. Why did I ever consume kale?

His road-touring life has forced him given him the golden opportunity to pretend he has no choice but to eat poorly, thus bringing him into close and constant contact with what passes for restaurant food here in America. Fast food joints come in for a good, solid de-pantsing as he does a virtual tour around the States listing his "favorite" chains, and then breaking it down to the regional chains like WaffleHouse and Whataburger. Regional foods (I almost said cuisine, ha!) are reminisced, such as Chicago's deep-dish pizza, Seattle's coffee, NY bagels and the South's maternal love for bbq.

After reading this, I had to clear my head of Gaffigan's intentional food nonsense by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. You're just not going to find deep, scientific insight in Food. This is for the laughs. Although, there are some borderline poignant passages:

Nobody believes in racial profiling until they get a red-haired sushi chef with a southern accent.

I think everyone is aware how disgusting snails are, and that’s why they are served in a bowl of wine and butter and called “escargots,” which is a French word loosely translated as “denial.”

Often on the menu, oysters will be listed as “oysters on the half shell.” As opposed to what? “In a Kleenex?” Even the way you are supposed to eat an oyster indicates something counterintuitive. “Squeeze some lemon on it, a dab of hot sauce, throw the oyster down the back of your throat, take a shot of vodka, and try to forget you just ate snot from a rock.” That is not how you eat something. That is how you overdose on sleeping pills.

Okay, so those weren't poignant at all, but they did give me a chuckle and that's all I truly expected from this book.

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