I’m cheating a bit here, with brief notes on what I’ve been reading, in between packing for summer vacation.
For those of you interested in the history of cooking and eating, here’s a book not about food, but about implements: pots, peelers, graters, timers, ovens, and so on. Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork (2012) takes us from wood fires to four-slot toasters, from fingers to forks, from wooden sticks to wire whisks. Wilson makes some excellent points about how “progress” may in fact be the opposite. Post-WWII efforts to equip kitchens with labor-saving devices served only to tie women more closely to the room that men rarely entered. Wilson also notes the changes made possible by new technologies (yogurt consumption increases, recipe books get written). There are also surprising tales, such as the one about our overbite, and another about can openers.
For something completely different, try Colin Meloy’s Wildwood Chronicles (3 vols, 2011-2014, illustrated by Carson Ellis). Set in Portland, Oregon, it tells the story of the Wildwood, an expanse of dense woods west of the Willamette River, protected by a magical boundary few can pass. When Prue’s baby brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows, she and Curtis give chase and find themselves embroiled in a political uprising setting foxes against every other animal and human in the Wildwood, all of whom speak. I have to decide now whether to pack the immense 3rd volume or save it for my return. (PS: If Meloy’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the singer/songwriter/guitarist for the indy group, the Decemberists.)
Finally, there’s Roz Chast‘s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2013). Chast, long-time cartoonist for The New Yorker and perhaps the funniest woman alive, has already published collections of her cartoon art and a couple of kids’ books. As far as I know, this is her first memoir. It follows the physical decline and deaths of her parents, over the course of a few years, starting funny as hell (see the title) and ending still funny but also sad, especially for anyone who’s parents are heading into the same final years. The title is a comment Chast’s mother makes, when Chast starts asking about their plans for, well, you know: when IT happens. Chast’s parents are the opposite of the townspeople of La Crosse, Wisconsin (NPR’s Planet Money report here).
In fact, most of us are the opposite of those enlightened Wisconsinites. Perhaps Chast’s memoir can help open up those conversations, if only to avoid that scene of the daughter abandoning all her parents’ belongings to a dumpster because she can’t face sorting through everything.
Summer reading to include George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Frightened Of, a bit of Mapp and Lucia (while I make a trip to Rye/Tilling), and who can say what else?
Happy summer to my readers! Happy reading to all!