The Six-Point Inspection

Histories of Sex, Bach, and Tacos

The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, & Longing in the Ancient World

by Vicki León

The Nutshell:

Writer and women’s historian León guides readers through sex and romance in antiquity, illuminating sordid stories of famous figures (Caesar’s affair with the original cougar, Brutus’ mother) and sexually charged practices and rituals (such as those of the Sacred Band of Thebes, an army of male lovers).

Literary Lovechild Of:

The Kama Sutra and Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven.

You'll Find It On Your Bookshelf If:

You talk wistfully of the days of free love, but you’re referring to the B.C. era, not 1978.

Cocktail Party Fodder:

Greek dildos, called olisboi, were made of padded leather (“anointed with good-quality olive oil”), ivory, wood, marble—and, beginning in the fifth century B.C., bread.

For Optimal Benefit:

Give this to a classics major on his or her wedding night.

Snap Judgment:

The joy León takes in the sexual foibles of the ancients is infectious—even if you sense that, like TMZ, she’s not above exploring the limits of plausibility for a little more titillation.

Reinventing Bach

by Paul Elie

The Nutshell:

Writer and former editor Elie weaves a biography of Bach—whom he considers an inventor as much as a composer or musician—with the stories of the performers and composers who have reinterpreted his music and advanced audio technology over the past two centuries.

Literary Lovechild Of:

Norman Lebrecht’s Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World and Laurence Dreyfus’ Bach and the Patterns of Invention.

You'll Find It On Your Bookshelf If:

You love nothing more than to debate the merits of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording versus his 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations.

Cocktail Party Fodder:

The cellist Pablo Casals spent 12 years practicing Bach’s cello suites every day before working up the courage to perform them in concert.

For Optimal Benefit:

Listen to some Albert Schweitzer and some Yo-Yo Ma to get in the mood.

Snap Judgment:

Elie’s a bit breathless at times, but his narrative flows smoothly, and he makes a convincing case for Bach’s importance to music technology.

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

by Jeffrey M. Pilcher

The Nutshell:

University of Minnesota historian Pilcher travels from an East L.A. Taco Bell to Victorian-era Mexico to chart the creation and proliferation of what we call “Mexican food.”

Literary Lovechild Of:

Andrew Coe’s Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States and Hasia Diner’s Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration.

You'll Find It On Your Bookshelf If:

You feel innate skepticism when anyone uses the word “authentic” to describe the tamale joint around the corner.

Cocktail Party Fodder:

Of the 50 restaurants in 1960 Los Angeles with “taco” in their names, 27 were in majority white neighborhoods, 12 in majority black neighborhoods, and eight in majority Mexican neighborhoods.

For Optimal Benefit:

Read while eating a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco

Snap Judgment:

Pilcher wants to use Mexican food as a lens through which we can view immigration, globalization, and prejudice—but the trees here are more interesting than the forest.


By Sarah Rothbard. Editor: T.A. Frank.
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