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Book Picks

[whitespace] Book picks by Michelle Goldberg and Richard von Busack.

By Isabel Allende
HarperCollins, 320 pp, $26

Since Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, publishers have been churning out novel/memoir/cookbook hybrids as fast as McDonald's makes hamburgers. In the first chapter of her contribution to the genre, famed Latin American writer (and current San Francisco resident) Isabel Allende says, "To justify yet one more collection of recipes or erotic instructions is not easy." Luckily, this gorgeous, charming book needs no justification. After spending years grieving for her daughter, Paula, whose death she wrote about in her last book, Allende discovered her appetites again, and she wrote Aphrodite to celebrate them. The first two-thirds of the book is a loosely structured collection of musings about all things sensual, as well as lists of all categories of aphrodisiacs. In the back are relatively simple recipes for meals that are supposed to get lovers in the mood. With its gorgeous illustrations and cheekily poetic tone, the book itself is enough to incite eroticism--this may be the only cookbook ever written to be read aloud in bed. (MG)

Blue Bossa
By Bart Schneider
Viking, 244 pp, $24.95

Bart Schneider's first novel, Blue Bossa, is as sweet and sad as a Billie Holiday dirge. This story of an over-the-hill, smack-addicted jazz trumpeter reunited with his confused young daughter and her fatherless son aches with regret and nostalgia. Set in San Francisco in the '70s, with the Patty Hearst kidnapping bobbing in the back of everyone's conscience, the tale conjures our city at its most romantic and forlorn, filled with beautiful losers, rolling fog and withered old artists stewing in their SRO hotels. The writing is remarkably spare--most of the chapters are less than two pages--and hugely compassionate. Schneider writes about music so well that you can imagine not just what it sounds like, but what it makes its listeners feel. He captures the hopped-up hedonism of the jazz world without any of the typical hard-boiled posing. At the same time, he also avoids misty-eyed sentimentality, tidy epiphanies and easy endings. (MG)

High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess
By Charles Fleming
Doubleday, 294 pp, $23.95

Don Simpson, the co-producer of An Officer and a Gentleman, Flashdance, Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, was found dead at 52 next to the toilet with a dozen drugs in him. As happens in many a rock star's death, the OD had a plangency the artist's art always lacked. Charles Fleming, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, chronicles Simpson's excesses: snow shovels full of coke and boxcars full of whores, the dick-wielding, the monumental coarseness. When he wasn't relaxing, the producer made films full of big weapons and bad-boy cliches. Everything one could extrapolate from his awful movies is reflected in this biography. On screen and off, here was that junkie's craving for sensation at the price of emotion. Simpson's dead, but the damage he did to the quality of movies lives on. Considering both the films and the life, it could be said that Don Simpson was one of those rare people who made the world a little bit worse by his living here. (RvB)

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From the May 18-31, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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