It Took 10 Years, But Finally…

January 10, 2012

By Karen

…My “day job” has a website. If you’ve ever wondered what I really do for a living (or you just can’t get enough of my brilliant writing — I can dream, right?), now there’s karenwormald dot com (or click here).

Contrary to popular notions about the infinite power of the ‘Net, I’ve managed to make a good living as a freelance writer since 2002 — and help businesses improve their websites — without having a Web presence myself. But I’ll concede that it would have been a bit easier with one.

My new site is really a WordPress blog because I wanted to stick with the platform I sorta know and not have to funnel updates through a busy Web designer. And I can post rants about writing there whenever the spirit moves me.

I’m letting you know about this to explain the scarcity of posts here lately and because I hope some of you out there may be able to help me drum up some new clients.

If you enjoy reading Cats Working and you know someone in corporate America who has any responsibility for bad newsletters, ads, or brochures, an error-riddled website, or cringe-worthy attempts at internal communications, please refer them to my site. I can help them clean up their act and get some respect.

Distance doesn’t matter. I’ve worked years with many clients I’ve never met face-to-face. That’s what email, phone, and the occasional fax are for.

My new site has a “Contact” form. Feel free to use it if you want to pass me a lead or ever want to get directly in touch with me for any reason. (I can’t find that feature in the Cats Working template or I’d have it here, too.)


Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter

May 12, 2011

By Karen

I’ve been churning this because every time I look at it, it just revives my lingering annoyance.

People who make food the all-consuming (pun intended) theme of their lives, which Gabrielle Hamilton glorifies in her memoir, Blood, Bones & Blather Butter, bug the crap out of me.

I never would have read BB&B, except that when an exceptional writer like Anthony Bourdain claims it’s the book he wishes he’d written, attention must be paid.

It’s easy to see where Hamilton’s life resonated with Tony:

1. As a teen, she developed a tough façade and a drug habit, and overcame them.

2. She began her restaurant career as a grunt.

3. She married an Italian and grew enamored with Italian family life.

She managed to top Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential descriptions of restaurant kitchen hell only because he never worked nine months’ pregnant.

For me, that’s where similarities ended. Bourdain should be thankful that, like her, he’s not an emotional cripple.

Hamilton’s MFA in fiction certainly paid off — she knows her way around clever similes and metaphors. But since most rhapsodic descriptions of food look to me like…

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

… on the page, I was more interested in Gabrielle the person. I really wanted to like her.

The book is marketed as “memoir,” but she only sprinkles glimpses of her adult life as garnish. The sin of omission is so chronic that very little about her personality adds up — except her obsession with food.

She claims a woman she met at grad school was probably “the love of her life,” yet gives her no more than two pages of ink, and never bothers to humanize her with even a fake name.

Then she marries a man she’s been screwing but professes not to love so he can get a green card, but decrees they live separately — then has not one, but TWO children with him.

I wonder how many years her kids will spend in therapy, trying to figure out Mom’s relentless, white-hot hatred of Grandma, and why they had to commute to see Dad for years because Mom insisted they all pretend she was single?

On the other hand, she loved her husband’s family in Italy (when she wasn’t furious at them for making her feel enslaved by the care of her children or by cooking meals after she commandeered her mother-in-law’s kitchen).

In 7 years, she never learned enough Italian to communicate with her in-laws beyond food terms, and then kvetched about how alienated she always felt.

I don’t know how any reader could not have been left with a strong urge to slap the shit out of her and wish she would just GROW UP.

I thought Hamilton ended the book on the implication that divorce was probably coming (well-deserved and long overdue, IMO). But NPR interviewed her in March, and she talked as if she’s still married and things are fine.

Who knows? Even if she brings it up, unless the topic is food, don’t expect candor from Gabrielle Hamilton.

One more Bourdain connection: They’re both represented by the same literary agent.

Other reviews:

Josh Ozersky fawns in TIME.

Frank Bruni largely agrees with me in the NY Times on the autobiographical angle.

Second-Guessing Mark Twain

January 6, 2011

By Yul

Mark Twain’s masterpieces, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are becoming politically correct, thanks to Montgomery, Alabama, publisher NewSouth Books, who is producing a new combined edition.

On the advice of some local hot-shot Twain scholar named Alan Gribben, they are replacing the 219 instances of the word nigger with slave.

And they think leading schoolkids to believe that Twain said being black = slavery is an improvement.

Just for good measure, they’re also replacing injun with indian, because NOBODY in the South speaks in a dialect that mangles spelling. (For the record, southern squirrels think they’re squirls).

Once again, form triumphs over substance. A word is granted unlimited power so people can fixate on the word itself (and show their sensitivity by calling it “the n-word”) instead of thinking about what it MEANS and cluing in their kids.

Instead of letting Twain deliver his timeless message about man’s inhumanity to man, they’d rather let American kids grow up naïve and ignorant of the past’s realities so they can commit future atrocities and think they invented them. And so our stupid future leaders can get their asses handed to them by other countries who valued honesty and knowledge and actually prepared their next generation to avoid blunders already committed and recorded.

When nobodies like NewSouth and Gribbens are allowed to second-guess one of America’s all-time most insightful writers, where does it stop?

I’ll tell you. It doesn’t stop.

Next, NewSouth may decide to revise Gone With the Wind so the Confederacy wins and southerners can finally feel good about themselves and get a life.

(The Richmond Times-Dispatch — Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, don’t you forget it — made its first 2011 front-page headline about the Civil War. No lie. ‘Round these parts, there ain’t nothin’ goin’ on in the world bigger than a 145-year-old war.)

And if we continue our purge of all literature that might upset or agitate somebody, somewhere, we should probably “fix” other classics so they won’t offend, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Darned and Henry Miller’s Tropic of a Suspicious Lump.

Bourdain’s on the Road – Again

September 20, 2010

By Karen

We’re fresh out of new episodes of No Reservations, but this week Anthony Bourdain is making personal appearances in Houston (tonight), Toronto (9/22), Fredericksburg VA (9/23), and Springfield CT (9/24).

The Houston Chronicle got an advance interview. Among other things, here’s what Tony had to say about food writers…

“I can hardly imagine that this brave new world of bloggers can be worse than the agenda-driven, overprivileged, entitled class of dottering old farts who currently occupy the top tier of food journalism. It’s a pretty appalling bunch of bent, angry people who despise their subjects and hate their jobs and have been going through the motions for a long time.”

NowToronto published a 2-part interview with Bourdain, where he describes himself as an “’ex-cook who tells stories.’ Essayist maybe?” In Part 2, he says he doesn’t hate Paula Deen, and describes his upcoming graphic novel, Get Gyro (spelling? Ottavia spelled it Get Jiro on Twitter) as “Yojimbo meets Big Night and Babette’s Feast, an ultra-violent slaughter-fest over culinary arcana.”

Earlier, he told the Omaha World-Herald it’s “a gourmet slaughterfest, sort of like Fistful of Dollars meets Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Whichever it is, it sounds like an orgy of food, blood, and guts that may make his animated Alternate Universe seem tame.

When Bourdain was recently in London pushing Medium Raw, he told Metro that he doesn’t see food writing as part of his future path. He said he’s “kind of pushing himself” out of it because he’s becoming jaded, and has shelved plans to move to Vietnam because of No Res.

Hey, you read it here first. I’ve been saying that all along.

He also said something I take issue with. That is…

“I don’t think my writing has evolved. I mean I haven’t been working at it.”

By virtue of his output since Kitchen Confidential, he has unconsciously been honing how he expresses himself, even if he thinks he writes like he talks.

Tony, here’s the test: If you can read anything you wrote at least 6 months ago and find anything you’d like to revise, your writing is evolving.

On September 13, Bourdain appeared at the 92nd Street Y in NYC with David Chang and provides a thorough account of what sounds like a strange and awkward night. Chang is weird. Tony mentioned that Cuba, Haiti, the Congo, and Kurdistan are on his short list for NR Season 7.

Bourdain did an interview with Submerge before his September 17 Sacramento appearance and said that daughter Ariane and Alice Waters are a lot alike because Ariane eats only organic food and likes Paris.

CTnow got a really good interview with Tony before his September 24 Springfield appearance where he mentions that Ariane behaves herself in restaurants.

For some reason, I want to give Ottavia most of the credit for making sure Ariane’s never a whiny, fidgety brat in public, like the ones we’ve all had the misfortune of sharing meals or airplanes with.

On a side note… selected the still-unidentified Ruth Bourdain as one of the Chow 13 in their 2nd annual recognition of the food world’s movers and shakers. They even got an e-mail interview with the elusive, yet always hilarious, tweeter.

Bones to Pick with Bourdain

August 9, 2010

By Karen

In another new episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain shows us around Dubai for almost 5 minutes before plunging his fingers into mush that looks like vomit. Except for one scene in a deserted Gordon Ramsay restaurant where he wields a knife and fork, it’s finger food everywhere else, even if it has the consistency of sour cream.

My highlight is Bourdain on skis on a snowy slope manufactured from desalinated water in the Mall of the Emirates. His well-honed sense of the absurd also gets a good workout.

But I still can’t wait for him to get to Rome and Paris, where people don’t eat every meal like toddlers.

Must confess I finally abandoned The Best American Travel Writing of 2008, which Tony edited, due to its everywhere-but-Europe emphasis. I understood why he was drawn to the essays he picked, but enough’s enough.

I call “Bullshit!” on “Where it All Began” when Bourdain asserted he hardly considers writing a “craft” and has learned nothing about it because he just writes the way he talks.

Yeah, and all his first drafts are publishable.

Tony originally aspired to be a novelist with Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. He had to know something about plotting, pacing, character development, dialogue, description, point of view. There’s much more to crime fiction than “writing the way you talk.”

Granted, he finally hit one out of the park with Kitchen Confidential, which he just called his first “real” book on his blog. Of the 7 books he’s produced since, 6 have been nonfiction (The Bobby Gold Stories is the exception).

But his next book will probably be a novel, since he’s got personal appearances here through at least February 2011 and the Vietnam book still seems iffy.

And now for my coup de grâce…

The other night I caught about 20 minutes of Samantha Brown in — guess where? — Vietnam. I hadn’t seen her in while, and she seems to be over her “Golly, gee, I’m just a dumb American, but ain’t everything lovely!” phase. She met people and tried things most tourists would probably never do. She ate bun cha, but didn’t dwell on it. Vietnam through her eyes seemed more appealing than Tony makes it.

There, I said it.

Tony and family have been enjoying some much-needed R&R in Italy, but there’s a little news…

Jonathan Sorof at The Improper Bostonian did an interview some time in June with Tony where I learned that Brussels sprouts are part of his Thanksgiving dinners. Yeecchhh!

Here’s the article and photos of the Bourdains in the July 5 People, in case you missed it. collected Bourdain’s best one-liners from “Where it All Began.”

Blogger Scott D. Parker did write a review of the Medium Raw audio book, which he devoured. Scott, just for the record, No Reservations’ 100th episode isn’t until September 6, and it will be in Paris, returning where Tony filmed the first episode. Travel Channel is advertising for tributes.

Village Voice reports that a panel of editors will select the finalists from which Bourdain will choose a winner in the Medium Raw essay contest, which is now up to 1,300 entries. He was checking the site and commented on a few in the beginning, but the chances of him reading your essay now seem pretty slim.

The New York Post, still referring to Les Halles as “Bourdain’s flagship brasserie,” reported that the restaurant received a B grade on a recent Health Department inspection for “evidence of mice, problems with plumbing and food left out unprotected from contamination.”

Update on Bourdain’s Next Book

February 6, 2009

By Karen

Unfortunately, I don’t have one. Anthony Bourdain has committed to 3 new books with The Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, but none seem to be in the pipeline for the near future.

You can read descriptions of the upcoming books here.

I browsed through all the HC titles being published through May 5 and Bourdain’s nowhere on the list, although he’s hanging with an eclectic group of writers these days, including Miguel de Cervantes, Mark Twain, and C.S. Lewis. Among the living authors, a few weirdo titles caught my eye that you might want to check out in the meantime, like…

I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can! Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood by Tom Bergeron, host of Dancing with the Stars, due out April 7.

In Praise of the Stay-at-Home Mom by Dr. Laura Schlessinger — if you have the stomach for her — also due April 7.

Me Cheeta by Cheeta, — yes, that Cheeta, who’s 76 years old — March 3.

And if you want to be first to know when Tony’s next book is ready to go, you can sign up here.

When Did Bourdain Lose Touch with Commas?

August 19, 2008

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain is my favorite writer these days, bar none, but what’s up with his punctuation?

I’m thrilled he’s regularly blogging about his new season of No Reservations, giving us his behind-the-scenes perspective on things. Those posts read like rough first drafts, pounded out on the fly, never to be reread, edited, or even proofed. I’m OK with that. They sound like he’s talking directly to you. Even on his worst days – with perhaps a raging hangover – his innate wit enables him to express himself more vividly than most people.

But in Envy, his latest post about his visit to Spain, I couldn’t help noticing some commas deliberately, glaringly, in inappropriate places. I quote:

An interesting visual, phenomonen occurred during the editing of the Spain show.

Understand: Albert, along with his brother, Ferran, is a chef/owner of the three Michelin starred El Bulli, the hardest to reserve, restaurant table in the world.

A jarring, flood of endorphins, then brain overload, and for a second, a blinding light.

And if I wanted to get nitpicky, I could rag on his peculiar misuse of semicolons:

Suffice to say that just about anywhere in the world of fine dining, from Shanghai to San Francisco; when Albert walks in the door, the whole place goes on Red Alert.

But let’s not go there.

These aren’t bold stylistic quirks, but rookie boo-boos that typically make writers wince with embarrassment if they get published.

It’s got me wondering if we’ve ever seen Bourdain’s true technical competence as a writer in his books, or if some devoted editor with a stake in boosting his literary career has been making his work look much more polished than it ever really was.

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