(Spiegel & Grau, 288 pp., $26)
Eddie Huang’s entertaining memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, contains what will probably turn out to be the top backhanded compliment of 2013. It comes near the end of the book, when the BaoHaus chef appears on the Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown. He’s a little sauced, and he’s already run out of the taping to use the john, to the horror of the show’s producers. He loses the competition, but chef Guy Fieri, the anti-Huang, tells him to keep cooking.
Mr. Huang writes, “Despite the fact that Tony Bourdain and I both think Guy Fieri looks like a rodeo clown, I have to say, he played a part in encouraging me to do this. I can’t cosign Tex-Mex sushi or wearing your sunglasses backward, but one time … he got it right. So, as I say this with a trashcan under my head in case vomit involuntarily spews out of my eyes, ‘Thank you, Guy Fieri.’”
The book traces Mr. Huang’s rise from the child of an “off the boat” Taiwanese family to a successful chef whose pork belly is coveted by foodies. But it’s worth reading for the “Ten Beef Noodle Soup Commandments” alone. —Michael H. Miller
(Harper Collins, 32 pp., $18.95)
When Jack Sendak died in the winter of 1995 from a brief seasonal illness, he became the subject of what was to be his brother’s final work. Maurice Sendak’s My Brother’s Book is an honest depiction of the author’s desire to be reunited with his “snowghost,” the brother who encouraged him to start drawing in the first place.
The story is set in cold Bohemia, the first of several references to A Winter’s Tale, on the fifth anniversary of the event that “heaved the iron earth in two.” Guy, the protagonist, is longing to see his brother Jack. Mr. Sendak, who died last year, then drops Guy into the arms of a Great White Bear that threatens to hug him out of breath, characteristically expressing the author’s feeling of love as an affliction that is out of his control. Finally, through the suggestion of a riddle—“a sad riddle is best for me”—Guy is flung in the direction of his brother again.
Mr. Sendak’s book draws heavily on autobiography. He references the month Jack died, (“In February it will be/My snowghost’s anniversary) and the cause of his death (“A boy in winter fell deep in ice”). But he also remains wonderfully visionary. The book and its William Blake-esque illustrations serve as a fine epitaph. It is a sharp, sad, personal account of life after death. —Henry Krempels