This month, our editors are reading about food and guilt, Hawaii and terrorism — not necessarily in the same book. See four nonetheless compelling selections below.
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Irena Smith, Columns Department Editorial Assistant, writes, “I just finished Adam Gopnik’s erudite, earthy, and utterly life-affirming book The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food. Somehow, in the space of less than 300 pages, Gopnik manages to cover everything — the last meal of a young French Resistance fighter on the morning of his execution, the first meal in recorded literature, slow food, molecular gastronomy, the birth of the modern restaurant from the ashes of the French Revolution, and the perils of trying to find a locally-raised chicken in New York City (he ends up settling for an upstate chicken but remarks that its life cycle — ‘born elsewhere, arrived in hope, lived in cramped quarters, ended its New York existence violently and unexpectedly at the hands of someone with a fatal amount of money’ — is local enough to qualify). Funny, poignant, firecracker-lively, and engaging from beginning to end, this is the kind of book that makes you follow other people around, reading select passages out loud. There are many such passages.”
Blog Editor Karna Converse shares, “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is catalogued as memoir, but the story of author James McBride’s search to understand who he is, is much more than that. Part sociology, part history, this story exposes readers to racial and socio-economic divides and how a mother’s faith in God and love of family overcame them all. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects of the 1960s, McBride never knew the details of his mother’s past, just that she was different from all the other mothers — ‘I’m light-skinned,’ she told him. But Ruthie McBride Jordan was much more than that. At his persuasion, she tells her story of Jewish ancestry and Southern roots, of marriage to a black man and founding a Baptist church in Harlem, and of raising twelve children who all become college graduates. McBride writes alternately in his voice and his mother’s which effectively reveals his mother’s unshakable belief that the only two things that really matter are school and church. Yes, McBride wrote a tribute to his mother, but The Color of Water is a reminder for every mother and every family that ‘love rules. It’s a firm footing, something to cling to in a frightened world that seems to spin out of control with war, terrorism, and uncertainty.’ (From McBride’s Afterword to the 10th Anniversary Edition).”
Editor-In-Chief Caroline M. Grant just started reading The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings. “I love this complicated portrait of a family in transition. Matthew King has never been a very present parent to his two daughters, but with his charismatic wife, Joanie, lying in a coma, he has to figure out how to take charge. I enjoyed this winter’s film adaptation starring George Clooney (and it certainly doesn’t hurt to picture Clooney while reading the novel), but of course the novel is inevitably richer and Hemmings’ writing is gorgeous. She gives us a vivid portrait of the mother around whom this family revolves, and a perspective on Hawaiian culture that tourists never see.”
Column Editor Nicole Stellon O’Donnell writes, “I just finished Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. The novel focuses on guilt and hidden identities. It shifts narrators, building the connections between the characters slowly. Those relationships and Spiotta’s sharp writing made me want to put down everything else I was doing to keep reading. She portrays the choices and accidents that define adult life with sharp detail and intelligence. I followed up by immediately starting Stone Arabia, another novel she’s written. It’s excellent so far as well.”