Thursday, October 1, 2020

Book Review

Only two books to report on. I'm hoping to spend a bit more time on reading soon, I did make it one of my September Resolutions.  I have a stack of books waiting for me, plus a library hold to pick up (along with 6 other holds I just put on, eeek!).

So onto my humble book review:

The Innocents by Michael Crummey was on my 2020 Reading List (which by the way has hardly had a dent made in it so it may become my 2021 reading list).  It is a Giller Prize finalist, so a Canadian novel and written in a more serious literature type style.  

The story is set in the late 1800s I believe, although it is never really spelled out, you have to figure it out from other plot points, in remote Newfoundland.  There are two children whose baby sister and two parents have just died.  They aren't sure what to do other than to continue to live the life they've always known on the coast, trying to survive.  They have some contact with other people throughout the book and there is also this underlying sexual tension between the siblings as they grow into young adults. 

This is usually my type of book and it hits two of my three hallmarks of a good book (Canadian and sad, the third is war). And although I did enjoy it, and appreciated the description of the landscapes and their hardships, nothing really happened, like there was no big sweeping plot point, just their lives plodding along, day after day, trying to find something to eat, stay warm and dry, and learning new things.  I think it is a worthwhile book to read, but it was more of a English class type book, so a more challenging read.

The next book I'm writing about is The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty.  

 I have been reading this book for some time and honestly I still have a couple of chapters left and I'm not sure I will finish it.  Speaking of a university style book, this one is a thick history lesson.  I ordered this book in June during the most recent wave of Black Lives Matter support.  I follow Smitten Kitchen on Instagram (Deb Perelman) and during this time she shared a bunch of cookbooks by Black chefs and this was one of them.  I thought it would be more cookbook and less non-fiction, but there are only a handful of recipes.  For the most part it was a very detailed (and admiringly so) account of how Black people were brought to America, how they moved about after they were here, mixing with the races, developed food, and how they suffered as slaves.  There is a lot of genealogy of the author's ancestors, and the work he has put into tracing his family tree is impressive, but it is a lot of detail that I found hard to absorb.

Generally though, I am happy I picked up this book. I used to read Gone with the Wind all of the time and I did romanticize that era for sure. I sort of picked up this book looking for a treatise on ribs, collard greens, and other traditional "Black" southern comfort foods. I wanted to hear simply why slaves and plantation owners made certain foods and why they have stayed popular until now.  That was a very misguided and simplified (and I'll say ignorant) view to have.  You cannot boil down the "African American Culinary History in the Old South" to those handful of stereotypes, and Twitty tells us that as he writes about so many types of foods, ones I've never even heard of ones, and how the circumstance of Black people coming from Africa and then moving throughout the South, changed their culinary habits and practices.  It really did open my eyes to the complexity of the Black experience in the United States and beyond, and it was done through food, which is always a plus in my book. 

I will try to get through the rest of the book, and although I won't be making ash cake or beaten biscuits (where the cook is supposed to pound the dough "with a hammer, solid rolling pin, mallet or the back of an ax (!) for 25 to 30 minutes"), but I could try the okra stew or apple crumble.

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