The internet is a wild and lawless place, and there’s never any telling what’s going to be the next big, popular thing. Just like there are constants in life, though (like death and taxes), there are a few things you can count on to run the internet: alcohol, cat memes, and pictures of our smiling (or duck-lipped) faces. This week’s book club features three new volumes that explain three of our most current (and constant) obsessions, so go offline for a minute and read up.
1. Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker ($17): Journalist and former executive tech editor of The Huffington Post Bianca Bosker loved drinking wine, and she loved competition. She decided to take both of these to the next level, and not only become a professional sommelier, but to pass the extremely difficult Certified Sommelier Exam, a test which seriously challenges one’s tastebuds, trivial knowledge, and ability to provide a ridiculous degree of service. How does one go, though, from wine enjoyer to wine master? Bosker’s journey takes her from New York to California, as she works in a wine cellar, joins blind tasting groups, studies up on the intricacies of the grape with a wine mentor, and even schools herself on the production side of the equation with vineyard visits.
Part wine encyclopedia and part love letter to the idea that knowledge enriches our experience of the world, Cork Dork will resonate with enthusiasts and beginners alike. Bosker’s near-obsessive tale delights in chronicling those who live for the grape, for “taste above all else.” She writes: “They enter high-stakes wine competitions (sometimes while nine months pregnant), handle millions of dollars in liquid gold, and make it their mission to convince the world that beauty in flavor belongs on the same aesthetic plane as beauty in art or music. They study weather reports to see if rain will dull their noses, and lick rocks to improve their taste buds. Toothpaste is a liability. They complain about that ‘new glass’ smell, and sacrifice marriages in the name of palate practice.”
Cork Dork is full of this sort of wit and humour, but’s not just a story of Bosker ingratiating herself into a clique of lovable weirdos; there’s also passages about the intersection between wine and neuroscience, and an analysis of wine’s multifaceted characteristics; as one of her interview subjects says, “after blood, wine is the most complex matrix there is.” It’s already on several “best-of” lists this year, so pop the cork, and pour a glass of what promises to be a fine vintage.
2. The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions by Thomas McNamee ($27): On the internet, cats or GTFO. Those of us who love the wee furry beasties (that is, those of us who have hearts and emotions) were recently vindicated by a study that showed that, contrary to their aloof reputation, cats are actually loving, kind creatures. If nothing else, cats have given us the joy of a million memes, insinuating themselves firmly into the cultural lexicon (they can even has their own language). In Thomas McNamee’s The Inner Life of Cats, the Guggenheim Fellowship winner delves into the longstanding relationship between humans and cats, and how the not-quite-fully-domestic felines have adapted their vestiges of wildness into the unique behavioral traits we see today.
McNamee’s book is a look into how cats develop, behave, and communicate, alongside an examination of their evolution, and a look into both cats’ experience with domestic bliss (the humble housepet) and outdoor survival (such as a look into Roman feral cat colonies). It’s a history that starts over 5,000 years ago in China and ends in the author’s backyard: The book is also a personal story, as he relates the story of his own life-changing feline, a black cat named Augusta who turned up at his doorstep in the middle of winter and stayed for 15 years, saying “This is home.”
Though The Inner Life of Cats isn’t necessarily a step-by-step manual for those new to the cat world, it may just show you how to optimize your cat care with evidence from researchers, activists, and experts. If nothing else, it will help you better appreciate those endlessly entertaining creatures who make us their devoted staff, infiltrate our hearts, and seem to be studying us as much as we return the favor.
3. I Love My Selfie by Ilan Stavens and ADÁL ($22): The wold “selfie” is fairly new; supposedly first used in an Australian online forum in 2002, it soon gained momentum and was declared Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2013. While the word itself is a recent phenomenon, don’t trust the critics who bemoan the selfie as the downfall of the current generation; the self-portrait is a time-honored tradition that’s been around as long as art itself. It has gotten substantially easier to document one’s every moment, it’s true, but how did we get from Ancient Greece to Instagram? (Insta-Greece?)
Ilan Stavans, professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and also a Guggenheim fellow, writes a series of essays that explore our seemingly never-ending flirtation with the selfie, and what significance it’s had on culture and identity. He takes us from mythology to the Renaissance, from Pop Art to today’s celebrity snaps, and theorizes that one’s impetus behind the selfie is the tone it sets in presentation, identifying the self-snapper as spontaneous, cool, informal.
Stavans’ book is illustrated by ADÁL (Adál Maldonado), a Puerto Rican artist who decorates its pages with 50 varied “autoportraits” with a nod to the surreal. With a combination of photos and narrative, it provides a compelling claim for why we just might study the modern selfie in college one day (instead of just taking them). So, the next time you snap a pic for Snapchat, you can call it research; this book will help you back that up.
What books make you want to browse? Tag us in your next meme-worthy read @BritandCo.
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