Books by Lileks, James

Lileks, James. The Gallery of Regrettable Food. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-609-60782-0.
The author is a syndicated columnist and pioneer blogger. Much of the source material for this book and a wealth of other works in progress are available on the author's Web site.

April 2004 Permalink

Lileks, James. Gastroanomalies. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007. ISBN 0-307-38307-5.
Should you find this delightful book under your tree this Christmas Day, let me offer you this simple plea. Do not curl up with it late at night after the festivities are over and you're winding down for the night. If you do:

  1. You will not get to sleep until you've finished it.
  2. Your hearty guffaws will keep everybody else awake as well.
  3. And finally, when you do drift off to sleep, visions of the culinary concoctions collected here may impede digestion of your holiday repast.

This sequel to The Gallery of Regrettable Food (April 2004) presents hundreds of examples of tasty treats from cookbooks and popular magazines from the 1930s through the 1960s. Perusal of these execrable entrées will make it immediately obvious why the advertising of the era featured so many patent remedies for each and every part of the alimentary canal. Most illustrations are in ghastly colour, with a few in merciful black and white. It wasn't just Americans who outdid themselves crafting dishes in the kitchen to do themselves in at the dinner table—a chapter is devoted to Australian delicacies, including some of the myriad ways to consume “baiycun”. There's something for everybody: mathematicians will savour the countably infinite beans-and-franks open-face sandwich (p. 95), goths will delight in discovering the dish Satan always brings to the pot luck (p. 21), political wonks need no longer wonder which appetiser won the personal endorsement of Earl Warren (p. 23), movie buffs will finally learn the favourite Bisquick recipes of Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, and Bette Davis (pp. 149–153), and all of the rest of us who've spent hours in the kitchen trying to replicate grandma's chicken feet soup will find the secret revealed here (p. 41). Revel in the rediscovery of aspic: the lost secret of turning unidentifiable food fragments into a gourmet treat by entombing them in jiggly meat-flavoured Jello-O. Bon appétit!

Many other vintage images of all kinds are available on the author's Web site.

December 2007 Permalink

Lileks, James. Graveyard Special. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2012. ASIN B00962GFES.
This novel, set in the Dinkytown neighbourhood of Minneapolis, adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus, in 1980, is narrated in the first person by Robert (not Bob) Thompson, an art history major at the university, experiencing the metropolis after having grown up in a small town in the north of the state. Robert is supporting his lavish lifestyle (a second floor room in a rooming house in Dinkytown with the U of M hockey team living downstairs) by working nights at Mama B's Trattoria, an Italian/American restaurant with a light beer and wine bar, the Grotto, downstairs. His life and career at the “Trat” and “Grot” are an immersion in the culture of 1980, and a memoir typical of millions in university at the epoch until a cook at the Trat is shot dead by a bullet which came through the window from outside, with no apparent motive or clue as to the shooter's identity.

Then Robert begins to notice things: curious connections between people, suggestions of drug deals, ambiguous evidence of wire taps, radical politics, suspicions of people being informants, and a strange propensity for people he encounters meeting with apparently random violence. As he tries to make sense of all of this, he encounters hard-boiled cops, an immigrant teacher from the Soviet Union who speaks crystalline wisdom in fractured English, and a reporter for the student newspaper with whom he is instantly smitten. The complexity and ambiguity spiral ever upward until you begin to suspect, as Robert does in chapter 30, “You never get all the answers. I suppose that's the lesson.”

Do you get all the answers? Well, read the novel and find out for yourself—I doubt you'll regret doing so. Heck, how many mystery novels have an action scene involving a Zamboni? As you'd expect from the author's work, the writing is artful and evocative, even when describing something as peripheral to the plot as turning off an Asteroids video game after closing time in the Grot.

I yanked the cord and the world of triangular spaceships and monochromatic death-rocks collapsed to a single white point. The universe was supposed to end like that, if there was enough mass and matter or something. It expands until gravity hauls everything back in; the collapse accelerates until everything that was once scattered higgily-jiggity over eternity is now summed up in a tiny white infinitely dense dot, which explodes anew into another Big Bang, another universe, another iteration of existence with its own rules, a place where perhaps Carter got a second term and Rod Stewart did not decide to embrace disco.

I would read this novel straight through, cover-to-cover. There are many characters who interact in complicated ways, and if you set it aside due to other distractions and pick it up later, you may have to do some backtracking to get back into things. There are a few copy editing errors (I noted 7), but they don't distract from the story.

At this writing, this book is available only as a Kindle e-book; a paperback edition is expected in the near future. Here are the author's comments on the occasion of the book's publication. This is the first in what James Lileks intends to be a series of between three and five novels, all set in Minneapolis in different eras, with common threads tying them together. I eagerly await the next.

October 2012 Permalink

Lileks, James. Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s. New York: Crown Publishers, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4640-8.
After turning your tastebuds inside out with The Gallery of Regrettable Food (April 2004), Lileks now tackles what passed for home decoration in the 1970s. Seldom will you encounter a book which makes you ask “What were they thinking?” so many times. It makes you wonder which aspects of the current scene will look as weird twenty or thirty years from now. Additional material which came to hand after the book was published may be viewed on the author's Web site.

December 2004 Permalink

Lileks, James. Mommy Knows Worst. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-8228-5.
Why did we baby boomers end up so doggone weird? Maybe it's thanks to all the “scientific” advice our parents received from “experts” who seemed convinced that despite millennia of ever-growing human population, new parents didn't have the slightest clue what do with babies and small children. James Lileks, who is emerging as one of the most talented and prolific humorists of this young century, collects some of the very best/worst of such advice in this volume, along with his side-splitting comments, as in the earlier volumes on food and interior decoration. Flip the pages and learn, as our parents did, why babies should be turned regularly as they broil in the Sun (pp. 36–42), why doping little snookums with opiates to make the bloody squaller shut up is a bad idea (pp. 44–48), why everything should be boiled, except for those which should be double boiled (pp. 26, 58–59, 65–68), plus the perfect solution for baby's ears that stick out like air scoops (pp. 32–33). This collection is laugh-out-loud funny from cover to cover; if you're looking for more in this vein, be sure to visit The Institute of Official Cheer and other features on the author's Web site which now includes a weekly audio broadcast.

December 2005 Permalink