1) How to Read a French Fry, by Russ Parsons

The title hooked me. Turned out to be a very satisfying read about the science of cooking. Parsons, food editor of the Los Angeles Times, simplifies the complex but does not dumb it down.

“Each chapter addresses a specific culinary-scientific process (e.g., deep-frying, the secret post-harvest life of fruits and vegetables), provides a list of rules to follow therein, then offers a range of recipes that use the technique in question. In a chapter titled “From a Pebble to a Pillow,” for example, Parsons explains the various ways in which grains, beans and other starches cook. He clears up myths about cooking beans and explains what makes an apple “mealy” (it’s the pectin). The chapter ties up with some guidelines for preparing starch-thickened sauces, pasta, etc.”

A must-read for all amateur cooks and foodies. Why wasn’t science this interesting in school?

2) You are Here–Why We Can Find our Way to the Moon but Get Lost in the Mall, by Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard, a behavorial neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, describes and explains how animals and human interpret and understand space. He starts with fascinating facts on how animals and insects find their way home, then goes on to talk about how humans have changed their relationship with space, and how this has affected our navigational abilities. The chapters on home, office and building design are especially enlightening. What makes a space comfortable and conducive? There are logical reasons to how we feel in a particular space, or how a particular space makes us feel.

Review from the New York Times here.

3) The Catsitters, by James Wolcott

What do you call the male version of chick lit? Wolcott, the cultural critic for Vanity Fair, produces a light but not frivolous account of Johnny Downs and his dating experiences. “At times witty and poignant, The Catsitters is an adroit comedy of contemporary manners that wickedly renders the hapless foibles of an unmarried man on the canvas of modern urban life”.

We have “Johnny Downs, a beefy, almost-out-of-work actor who never scores the romantic lead in either life or theater. We also get his caustic friend Darlene, who runs his life over the phone from her hometown in Georgia. This long-distance kibitzer orchestrates Johnny’s dates, moderates his behavior, and ultimately sabotages his most successful love affair. And what about the titular catsitters? They turn out to be a couple of Darlene’s girlfriends, who come to New York to look after Johnny’s cats for a weekend and don’t bother to leave, further compounding his romantic problems.”

Some chick lit novels leave you feeling guilty, like you shouldn’t have wasted that time reading all that predictable stuff. This is, thankfully, not one of those.