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Posts Tagged ‘Memoirs’

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This week’s heat in Vermont makes it a bit too warm to cook; thus, today we highlight books that are “sort of” about cooking. Maybe they will inspire you to cook. Maybe they will inspire you to sit and read, perhaps with a cool tomato salad and some watermelon as nourishment.  We also note that both provide a great break from the news cycle we seem to be caught in of shootings and political divisiveness. So, when your news feed is too hot to handle, and/or when the thought of cooking fries your brain, find a nice icy drink, sit in a comfy chair, and try these two titles.

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FC9780307718297.jpgComing to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (2017). It is a sweet and savory pleasure to read this American culinary icon’s memoir. Learning about Alice Water’s mid-western childhood, a pivotal family move to California in her teens, and traveling with her in the late 60’s on a rather footloose and fancy-free trip through Europe sets the stage for the somewhat haphazard opening of Chez Panisse in the 1970’s. She’s a fascinating mash-up: her creative, free-spirited side reminds one a bit of Patti Smith, but her culinary vision is more of a Julia Child (minus the formal training). Her story offers a fascinating window into the vibrant art and political scene in San Francisco “back in the day.” It also serves to remind us that the making of an influential and  important institution, in this case Chez Panisse, does not necessarily start out with a big budget or perfection on opening night — but rather with passion, intuition, and a deep desire to learn. I was struck again and again by how delicious food need not be fancy, but instead sourced with attention to the land and farmers. Several Alice Water’s fans lamented the fact that there isn’t a great deal of new information about her in this book, but for this reader who is somewhat new to her fan club, it opened the door on a good view into to her kitchen, her life, and influences. I appreciate the inspiration it offered, too: as soon as I turned the last page, I pulled out my copy of The Art of Simple Food and with her voice as a guide, whipped up a delectable aioli (with local Vermont eggs, of course) to serve alongside some gently steamed artichokes. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781451674200.jpgComfort Food Diaries: My quest for the perfect dish to mend a broken heart by Emily Nunn (2017) – Part cook book, part memoir, part recipe for regaining one’s equilibrium, this book by former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn, won some diverse recognition: NPR’s Best Books of 2017, Best Books on Food of 2017, The Guardian, Best Food-Focused Memoirs, Eater, Top 10 Narrative Food & Drink Books, Booklist, 20 Best Cookbooks, The Telegraph. And while I saw these reviews and was intrigued, it was not until a former roommate (who went to college with Ms. Nunn) put this in my hands that I managed to read this tale. In it, Ms. Nunn describes how during one life-changing, alcohol-enhanced night, she takes to Facebook for help with managing her brother’s death, a devastating breakup with her fiance, and her subsequent eviction from the home that they shared.  The next morning, she discovers many of her friends want to help and offer their couches, guest rooms, and kitchens to her to use while she puts her life back together. Thus, her “Comfort Food Tour” begins. Luckily for us readers, she chronicled her journey across America searching for what food comforts others in the hopes one of these dishes will unlock something for herself. Ms. Nunn manages to make her descent into the depths of personal angst and depression funny, insightful, and delicious – with recipes sprinkled throughout. As the indie-booksellers state in their review, Ms. Nunn “delivers a moving account of her descent into darkness and her gradual, hard-won return to the living”. I am glad my friend sent this to me. I hope you will be glad this found its way to you as well. ~ Lisa Christie

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Both of the Lisa’s found their ways to wonderful memoirs over our “Gone Reading” hiatus. One is about hunger, the other about being hungry for Vermont. Happy reading and welcome autumn!

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FC9780062362599.jpgHunger by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrific reason to pick up a book; and, it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal and punctuated with self-loathing. That said, her story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than horror; this memoir is also filled with hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, mistakes, social commentary, and always, always her body and her relationship with it. If you have ever tried to explain your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If you have never understood this relationship, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese often feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer of insight, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781681370743.jpgThe Farm In The Green Mountains by Alice Herndan-Zuckmayer (2017) –  As an immigrant to Vermont myself, I immediately fell in love with this sliver of a memoir. Written originally as a series of letters in the 1940’s to her husband’s parents back in Europe, Herdan-Zuckmayer chronicles the five years her family spent on “Backwoods Farm” in Barnard, Vermont. She and her husband,  both intellectuals in Germany,  were exiled by the Nazis to America due to their political views. This book was a best seller in Germany after World War II and a new edition has bee published this year by The New York Review of Books. Herdan-Zuckermayer’s writing style feels like a cheerful, warm embrace and her insights into American culture are poignant. I appreciated reading  about big snows, little general stores, shared telephone party lines, raising depressed ducks, and the family’s first American Christmas.  Not to be missed are her descriptions of Dartmouth’s Baker Library (and American libraries in general) and the many pilgrimages she made there during her time in America. Alice and her husband both felt they had found a true home in this remote corner of the world, and it truly comes across in this charming account of their life in the Green Mountains. ~ Lisa Cadow

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PS — Happy Anniversary to Lisa and Ken!

 

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On a GORGEOUS spring day last week – yes, spring does eventually reach Vermont – The Book Jam traveled to Vermont’s amazing Northeast Kingdom. We love to visit this region to bike, camp, ski and to simply enjoy the magnificent views.  This time, though, we were there to chat about books, to learn what librarians and booksellers in this more remote part of our state are recommending for summer reading, and to raise some money for Vermont libraries. (We also spent a bit too much in the Whistle Emporium, a superb gift/art/kitchen/just fun stuff store, located next to Claire’s.)  Thank you to the Vermont Community Foundation for making Pages in the Pub in Hardwick possible.

Our presenters to a packed pub at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick, Vermont included:

  • Linda Ramsdell, owner and founder of Galaxy Bookshop since 1988.  Linda considers herself extraordinarily fortunate to have spent half of her life in a place where books, people, ideas and imagination meet.
  • Lisa Sammet, library director of Jeudevine Memorial Library in Hardwick. She’s been a librarian, youth librarian, English teacher, farmer, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She also has been a professional storyteller in schools and libraries for over 30 years.
  • Rachel Hexter Fried, retired attorney and current Chair of the Stannard Selectboard. She supports independent bookstores and loves having the Galaxy in Hardwick. She is a voracious reader.
  • Lisa Christie, co-founder and co-blogger of The Book Jam Blog. Formerly the Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA; currently, a nonprofit consultant and mom who reads whenever she can find time.

We limited their written reviews to six words (those in the audience were able to hear a 2 minute review). So, although the list of books in this post is longer than our usual, we hope the brevity of the reviews helps you think about each, and helps you decide whether they should make your summer 2013 reading list.  Enjoy!

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacations

Former People by Douglas Smith. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Bolshevik Revolution’s destruction of aristocratic Russia.

  

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Russo’s life with his compulsive mother.

Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Remarkable WWII story of courage tragedy.

North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson. Selected by Lisa Christie. Bear kills. Daughter grieves, grows, loves.

   

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Poor boy’s rise to Manor master chef.

Sweet Toothby Ian McEwan.  Selected by Lisa Sammet. Cold war espionage, clever, love and truth.

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. 1 horse, great characters, nothing terrible happens.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. Selected by Lisa Christie.  Father Dies. Family Gathers. Gorgeous Prose.

  

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Canada by Richard Ford. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Exquisitely written story. Parents rob bank.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Post-apocalyptic suspense, savage and tender.

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney. Selected by Lisa Christie. “Ad-man” matures late in life.                                      

                           

 Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your mom/grad/dad

Vermont Farm Table by Tracey Medeiros. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Inspired photos, approachable recipes, neighbors, friends.

Saved: How I Quit Worrying about Money and became the Richest Guy in the World by Ben Hewitt. Selected by Linda Ramsdell.  Much to ponder at any point in life.

Picture Books (zero to 7) – books for youngsters to peruse under trees and in tree houses

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmet. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Fractured fairy tale with wry humor.

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet. Selected by Lisa Christie. Langston’s poems. Homeless Family. Books save.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Rarely glimpsed window to a world.

Some bonus books mentioned by the presenters during their presentations:

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie. Mentioned by Rachel.

Atonement by Ian McEwan mentioned by Lisa S.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon mentioned by Linda

The Danger Box by Blue Balliet mentioned by Lisa C.

At the end of our chats, the four presenters were curious about what audience members were reading.  Some of their current reading includes:

Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen; Freeman by Leonard Pitts; Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson; Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, bringing decision-making back home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout; Seward: Lincoln’s  Indispensible Man, by Walter Stahr; My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor; Mysteries by Benjamin Black;  and  Same Ax, Twice by Howard Mansfield.

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