Welcome to The Bookshelf, our column where we ask journalists, actors, designers and esteemed others to tell us their five most loved and treasured books and why they adore them so. This week we welcome molecular mixologist and world famous bartender Tony Conigliaro.
The Old Man and the Sea- by Ernest Hemmingway.
It is set in Cuba, which is a country I love, and it is about deep-sea fishing, which is one of my favourite things in the world to do. I know it has been said before but Hemmingway was such a man’s man kind of author, and a phenomenal drinker as well. I like to think of him downing Hemmingway daiquiris in sunny Cuba while he wrote this book.
The book itself is a classic struggle of man against himself and the elements. An aged fisherman battles with a marlin of epic proportion, struggling to bring the fish back to shore and end his string of bad luck he has been plagued with. The carcass of the marlin attracts sharks, the sharks eat the marlin the old man has caught, and the old man shows up back to shore empty handed and wounded from the fight.
Is it about despair? Is it about hope? Has he failed because the marlin was eaten? Or was the effort of trying in itself a success? For such a slim and sparse book it manages to pack in a lot of the bigger questions that can be raised about existence.
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks- by David A. Embury
A classic cocktail book by David A. Embury first published in 1948. One of the very best books ever written on drinks. A professional did not write this book, just a lawyer who just really enjoyed cocktails! Any time anyone asks me what book on cocktails I recommend for them to start with I always say The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It’s really the most thorough book on different types of cocktails that existed up until that period, and it’s categorization of cocktails into two main types: aromatic and sour; its categorization of ingredients into three categories: the base, modifying agents, and special flavorings and coloring agents; and its 1:2:8 ratio (1 part sweet, 2 parts sour, 8 parts base) for sour type cocktails was a really revolutionary way of breaking things down for the time period. It was really hard to find for a while as it was out of print, but Mud Puddle Books reissued it in 2008.
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.
It is a book about two different groups of people in two different time periods but connected in many ways. The first group is World War II-era Allied code breakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, (AKA those awesome blokes who broke the German U-Boat enigma codes and therefore pretty much won the war). The second part of the story is set in the late 1990s with descendants of the first narrative’s characters using burgeoning Internet computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. These two stories intertwine in unexpected ways and raise highlight how the breaking of the enigma codes were really the advent of all computer technology and encryption techniques. It’s a huge book, clocking in at 1152 pages, but is well worth the effort if you care to give it the time. It’s about computer technology, math, cryptology, WW2, the perfect way to eat Cap’t Crunch cereal, and much much more. It has been called the ultimate nerd novel and I would tend to agree.
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen – by Harold McGee
This is a book that has been hugely influential to me in my career. It gets you to look at cooking in a different light, and is a real myth buster for all sorts of things people take for granted in cooking. It is a huge compendium of basic information on ingredients and methods of cooking, safety in cooking, why certain foods give us pleasure, and on the ever-changing information of the health benefits and risks in foods. He manages to make the most complicated scientific facts easy to understand and reading this book is sure to spark the imagination of anyone that reads it. Harold McGee is a brilliant man and a real pioneer in his field. I refer to this book endlessly and recommend it uncategorically to anyone interested in the science behind what they are cooking and eating.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by American author Truman Capote that recounts the horrific 1959 murders of a farming family from Kansas. Capote spent six years working on the book. He interviewed everyone remotely connected with the murders and eventually became close to the murders themselves. The book became the greatest crime seller at the time. The book is also considered to be the first of the type of “non-fiction” novel, so that in itself is an incredible feat. The book is by turns chilling, fascinating, and tragic. It spawned an entire genre of “true crime” novels and cemented Truman Capote as one of the most important writers of his generation. The first time I read this book I literally could not put it down. We are so inundated these days with accounts of horrific things like what this book recounts that it is easy to forget that at one point things like this weren’t commonplace. Reading In Cold Blood put that into perspective for me.