The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett is the second book I’ve read from DailyLit (which is just one of my absolute favorite things). I picked it because I had never read any of Jewett’s work and she is a Maine author. Since my girlfriend is from Maine (and New Hampshire), I thought I should finally read some of her stuff. (I can relate any aspect of life back to reading!) I’m glad I did. The Country of the Pointed Firs was a totally enjoyable, pleasant read. Nothing too much happens, but you get a great sense of a small, coastal Maine community and the people who inhabit it. Jewett does a great job writing the dialog in a Maine accent as well. The book reminded me a lot of the Anne of Green Gables books, which I devoured as a kid – not so much because of the plot (like I said, there isn’t much of one), but because of the Northeastern locales.
I finished two books this weekend, both relating to food.
The first book was Third Helpings by Calvin Trillin, a thin, humorous volume written in the 1980s. I read a selection of Trillin’s writing in American Food Writing and enjoyed it, so I added him to my “to read” list along with quite a few others. His writing reminded of nothing so much as Erma Bombeck, a writer who I had entirely forgotten until I read this book – even though I (embarassingly) read all the books of hers that my library had when I was in junior high. I enjoyed this book, but I think it was good that it is a short one, because his writing becomes rather predictable pretty quickly. I don’t think I need to read any of his other offerings, but this one was just the humorous break I needed for a day or so.
The second book I read this weekend (okay, okay, I finished it Monday morning on the train to work), was Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey is a noted actress and cookbook author and this is her memoir of growing up in India. As you might expect, the book contains a lot of discussions of food, but it is also an interesting, personal look at the time surrounding Indian Independence from the eyes of a child. I love memoirs, and I think one of the things that I like about them, in addition to the fact that they are intensely personal, is that they are often self-limiting, dealing only with a certain phase of a person’s life. I think this focus makes the books stronger, and Jaffrey’s restriction of the book to her childhood, certainly does that for me here.
Home Girl (by Judith Matloff) is the second book I’ve read from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program (such an awesome program! free books! mailed to your house! before they are even in stores or libraries!), and we did not get off to a good start. I found the author’s description of the horrors she’s seen as a foreign correspondent and the corollaries she drew to her new West Harlem neighborhood annoying. Yes, we get it. You are a brave and adventurous gentrifrier who moved into a bad neighborhood. Good for you.
That said, once the author moved into the new house and began to describe the activities in the neighborhood, rather than just speculating, the book became much more engaging to me, and I found myself liking the book more and more. The cast of characters in the neighborhood are interesting, as are the ways she deals with the drug dealers on her block.
Matloff is a journalist by trade, and she reports events, even those that affect her directly, with some degree of detachment. She’ll say when an event scared her, for example, but that’s about it. The book moves on with little follow-up or reflection. Matloff seems to only scratch the surface of her emotions and problems (including the drug trade outside her door) seem to simply resolve on their own over time, both of which I think make the book a little weaker.
As a new homeowner, I was excited to read this book. And comparing my experience with Matloff’s made me feel much better about the work that needs to be done on our own house, so that’s a positive! I really wished that the book had had some photographs of the house – before and after, and since this is just an advanced proof, the published book might have that. In the meantime, if you read the book and are really curious, you can go to the author’s website – http://www.judithmatloff.com/. There aren’t many pictures, especially of the house, but there are a few of her neighbors.
Overall, I’d say this book was just average. I’m not sad I read it, and by the end I was enjoying it, but I wouldn’t pay money for it. Of course, I rarely pay money for books, so perhaps that’s not saying much. Definitely not on my must-read list though.
I am reading The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett at the moment and I very much liked this quote:
In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.
Shimura Trouble is the 10th book in the Rei Shimura series by Sujata Massey. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure reading and I especially love (ie, almost exclusively read) ones with strong female protagonists. Unsurprisingly they are also usually by female writers. I loved this series when it started because of the setting – much of the first books take place in Japan, but I have to say I think the series is losing steam. I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as previous ones and the cheesy writing that afflicts so many mysteries definitely showed through in this book. Now I’m trying to decide if I just didn’t notice it in previous books because I enjoyed their plots more, or if the writing has gone down hill… That said, I’m sure there will be another book in this series, and I will read it when it comes out.
I like to read about food. This may be related to the fact that I like to eat food. Or even to the fact that I like to cook food. But mainly I think it has to do with the fact that I really like non-fiction, but I especially like non-fiction that is personal. I like memoirs. I like social history. I like finding out about other people’s lives. And food is nothing if not personal, so that makes it a perfect non-fiction subject for me.
American Food Writing, edited by Molly O’Neill, is a creatively named anthology of writing selections dating back to the country’s inception. They are arranged chronologically and it is interesting to see American food evolve (and diversify) over time. The pieces are all fairly short (I don’t think any was more than 10 pages or so), which made it the perfect book to keep in the house and pick up any time I had a few minutes. (It’s over 700 pages long, so it can also last you for a good, long while). As a bonus, it introduced me to quite a few new food writers who I am eager to check out. I think it’s always a good sign with a book leads you to other books.