That first year at university, college or art school, when young people leave home for the first time and form new relationships with the world around them can become the framework for the rest of their lives. Thus begins Paul Beckermann’s journey through the Bauhaus school. It is 1922 and he and the other Bauhaus babies treat the town of Weimar and the surrounding forests like their playground. A quickly formed group of six offers up love triangles and jealousies. Paul loves Charlotte, Charlotte loves Jeno, Walter loves Jeno…
Told from Paul’s point of view decades later, he’s moved to England and is now Paul Brickman, famous abstract artist, The Hiding Game traces the life of the six friends and the Bauhaus school as it moves from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, each time being pushed out by conservative (fascist) forces that dislike what the place stands for. Continue reading “Book Review — The Hiding Game”
Kent, 1942 — the war rages on and the rural villages under the path of Hitler’s blitz on London are starting to feel the grip of food insecurity. The Dig for Britain campaign is in full swing and rationing is the only way to get meat, butter, and eggs unless you have a farm. This period was resplendent with contests and competitions to keep up people’s spirits and share advice on how to make the best out of limited resources.
In The Kitchen Front, The women of Fenley Village are encouraged to show off their best recipes and win a spot as an on-air radio host demonstrating their skills in the kitchen.
This collection of stories about a well-to-do kid from Halifax’s South End is apparently meant to be the first in a 5-part fictionalized autobiographical series. This book covers Aubrey’s childhood and teenage years in the 70s and 80s, and includes a cast of characters that range from his parents’ friends to drug-dealing ruffians from the poorer parts of town, to a collection of eccentrics and misfits who are the early adopters of Halifax’s vibrant punk music scene in the early 80s. But Aubrey’s life is pretty insular and posh. Private school, tennis lessons, and yacht clubs all play a role in his development and it’s only when another character tells him off and points out that his life is nothing at all like that of other Halifax youth (a refreshing twist, because I wasn’t sure the author actually had that self-awareness up to that point and was beginning to think he might be an awful jerk), that it became clear that somebody had the great good sense to consider Aubrey a poncy twat, and to call him on it.
Nobody reads my book reviews anyway, so I figure it’s totally okay if I cheat and pile a bunch into one post. I just want a place to record everything I’ve read because otherwise I’ll pick up the same title five years from now and read it again, and seriously, there are too many books to read, I’m not reading something twice unless it changes my life in some way.
So here’s what I’ve been reading lately…
This novel about a young Anishinaabe woman returning to her family home after the death of her father reads more like a young adult novel with traditional characters from the spirit world coming to life to help her come to terms with her loss and save her community. Beautiful artwork throughout by the author. A good entry point for readers of colonial descent to learn more about First Nations culture.
This pair of books by Emily White came to me at a strange time. Earlier this year I came down with a very weird case of laryngitis. Part allergic reaction/part bizarre cold (it’s entirely possible that I came into contact with Covid-19 before the official counts started), I was without a usable voice for six weeks, during which time I tried to go out and be social but failed miserably because I couldn’t talk loud enough to take part in any kind of conversation. I was feeling isolated and lonely (I’ve never found social media to be particularly “social”) and picked up Lonely thinking it might offer some solutions.
White was a Toronto environmental lawyer who left her practice to become a writer. Her loneliness did not stem from actually being alone with no social supports, however. She had family, friends, co-workers, and neighbours, but felt disconnected from all of them. She explores the differences (and similarities) between depression and loneliness, as well as the stigma attached to the admission of being lonely in an extroverted world. Ultimately she deals with her loneliness by getting out into the world where she meets her partner and is able to move away from the anxiety that has crippled her.
While most of us would acknowledge that we don’t share our true selves with the people around us, even the ones we love the most, are we more inclined to share our true thoughts with strangers? What about if we knew those strangers might come back to haunt us?
When artist Julian Jessop pours out his heart in a notebook and leaves it in a cafe for someone else to find, ideally also sharing their own story and then passing it on, he didn’t expect that the book, and the readers, would find its way back to him and the cafe. In its travels the green notebook collects Monica, the anal retentive cafe owner; Hazard, a… well, a bro-dude douchbag; then Riley, an Australian landscaper; on to Alice, a Mommy instagrammer pretending to have a perfect life; and then Lizzy, the busybody who brings the happy collection of friends, and the lies within their “truths”, crashing down.
Is it possible to make a career out of blogging? More specifically is it possible to make a career out of blogging about your digestive issues? Comedic writer Samantha Irby has not only done that but has translated her hilarious blog Bitches Gotta Eat to three books of essays (plus an ebook about New Year resolutions), as well as writing gigs for television shows such as Shrill.
Irby’s latest book wow, no thank you. continues on the themes in her previous titles, with fun new content as she writes about her life in Kalamazoo, Michigan where she is now a married homeowner with two stepkids. The essay Detachment Parenting talks about how she should not be a role model for kids, and A Guide to Simple Home Repairs speaks for every one of us who were never taught how to be handy when faced with issues such as “what do gutters do” or “what is that damp looking shit on the ceiling.” I was less enthralled with Late-1900s Time Capsule which details every song Irby would put on a mixtape and why. Not because Irby isn’t funny and earnest as she explains her selections, but because if her choices are not your particular groove, it probably won’t resonate. Continue reading “Book Review — wow, no thank you.”
Anyone who lived through the punk scene of the late 80s/early 90s probably remembers the nazi punks. Devolved from their enlighten anti-racist skinhead brethren, these boneheads made a game out of showing up at punk or industrial gigs and starting fights in the mosh pit. They’d strut, arms linked, down Yonge Street to stand outside gay bars threatening patrons with violence (incidentally, no matter how tough of a nazi skinhead you think you are, that 6’4″ drag queen is probably a better street fighter than you’ll ever be). I knew (and punched) a fair number of nazi punks in my time, but from the perspective of supporting friends who were gay or people of colour, I never really grasped what made these jerks such angry racists.
Turns out… not much.
Tony McAleer had a good childhood; supportive parents, private schools, trips abroad. But because his father was vaguely neglectful (and I’m not judging here, really, but McAleer’s teenage reaction to his doctor father’s absences seem out of line given how bad his life really wasn’t), he became an angry youth who found friendship and support within a music scene that morphed at some point to make hate its main focus. From there he moved further into the white supremacist movement, becoming the face and spokesperson for many organizations both in Canada and the US.
I flagged Recipe For a Perfect Wife after a review (or maybe it was a press release) made it out to be a bit of a thriller. While there was murder and mayhem, it was of a more genteel sort, served with tea sandwiches and cake, that was not much of a challenge.
A dual storyline — Nellie in the 1950s and Alice in 2018 — tells of both women’s lives in the same suburban house. Both women have secrets, and are living unhappy lives, making choices mostly to please their respective husbands. Nellie’s mid-century marriage is full of abuse, belittlement, and even rape, while Alice is a modern working gal who has torpedoed her career and agrees to move to the burbs as some form of self-imposed penance.
Adam Platt has been the restaurant critic at New York Magazine since 2000, when he took over from Gael Green. His own food background skews heavily to Asian cuisine as he spent his formative years in Japan and China, so while he has no formal cooking background, he has a deep understanding of the current food scene.
The early chapters of The Book of Eating read more like a very tasty auto-biography, detailing Platt’s childhood eating experiences in the US and abroad. These are engaging as part of the bigger story and especially for anyone interested in regional Asian cuisine, but I can see where and why some readers on Goodreads gave up near the beginning as Platt doesn’t really dish a lot of dirt on the NYC food scene, and he can tend to be repetitive with phrases that he presumes are witty (the term “boiled owl” appears far too often).