Bookish – In Which I Offer Mini Reviews for Many Books

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…

Crow Winter
Karen McBride
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.

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Book Review — Lonely, Count Me In

Lonely: A Memoir
Count Me In: How I Stepped Off the Sidelines, Created Connection, and Built a Fuller, Richer, More Lived-In Life
Emily White

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.

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Book Review — The Authenticity Project

The Authenticity Project
Clare Pooley

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.

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Lockdown Dining – Miku

Miku Toronto, part of Isolish
10 Bay Street, unit 105
(647) 347-7347
dinner for two: $130 plus tax

While restaurants are not able to open their seating areas, none of us in Toronto are hard up for take-out or delivery dining options, and that includes high-end offerings from almost all cuisines. There will always be pizza and wings, but a new service called Isolish is teaming up with fine dining restaurants to offer 4-course meals for delivery. So you can still eat posh during lockdown, but in your own dining room.

Working with a variety of restaurants around the city, Isolish offers a unique one-off meal for delivery, with each restaurant offering their 4-course menu on a specific date. A portion of the proceeds goes to Daily Bread Food Bank, making the prospect of a fancy feast even more alluring.

On April 30th, the participating restaurant was Miku, and for $65 per person we got a marvelous 4-course meal comprised of beautifully-detailed dishes. Some of these are currently on Miku’s To-Go menu for anyone interested in trying them outside of the Isolish promotion.

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Book Review — wow, no thank you.

wow, no thank you
Samantha Irby

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.”

Book Review — The Cure For Hate

The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist’s Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion
Tony McAleer

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.

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Book Review — Recipe For a Perfect Wife

Recipe For a Perfect Wife
Karma Brown

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.

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Lockdown Dining – Greg Couillard at The Depanneur

The Depanneur
1033 College Street
416- 828-1990
Dinner for 2 – $48 plus tax, pick up only

With the prospect of actually going to a sit-down restaurant for a meal looking to be far, far off in the future, and little else going on in the outside world in the form of entertainment, we’ve been punctuating the weeks of isolation with interesting take-away meals, both as a means of giving ourselves something to look forward to, and as a break from cooking every day.

As long-time fans of Greg Couillard, we were excited at the announcement that The Depanneur was offering a take-away dinner featuring some of his dishes. The supperclub dinners hosted by The Depanneur and owner Len Senator are always a hot ticket when Couillard is at the stoves, and this Persian-inspired dinner was no different, selling out well in advance.

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Book Review — The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony

The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony
Adam Platt, 2019

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).

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Book Review — The Great Believers

The Great Believers
Rebecca Makkai

I approached this one with trepidation. Set partially in 1985 – 1990 in Chicago’s gay scene, it deals with the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the devastation it caused within that community. My first job after high school was delivering meals in a hospital and although the gay scene in Halifax was tiny there were still a handful of AIDS patients at that time, placed on the cancer ward because the hospital didn’t know what else to do with them. Amongst a flood of ignorance and misinformation, many of my co-workers refused to deliver trays to these patients, so I found myself regularly getting called in for an evening shift and working only one ward (about 25 beds out of 900). I got to know a lot of these men in their last days, and with many of my close friends also being gay men, it was terrifying to watch.

The Great Believers follows Yale in the 1980s as he watches his friends die one by one, supported by his friend Nico’s younger sister, Fiona. The book then jumps to 2015 as Fiona arrives in Paris in search of her estranged daughter. The work jumps back and forth between time frames and while it first seems as if the book is two separate, disjointed story lines, things come together and we discover that Fiona, jokingly referred to as “Saint Fiona of Chicago” for her support of her brother and many of his friends as they died carries her own trauma and PTSD which has affected her life and that of those around her.

Makkai creates a parallel between the AIDS epidemic and the Great War/Spanish Flu epidemic with the storyline of Nora, Fiona’s great aunt, who was a model in Paris before and after the first world war, and who has valuable artwork that Yale tries to secure for the gallery where her works. Nora lost many of her friends and colleagues, either at the front or from the flu, or other related ways (such as suicide) after the fact.

Although the story appears to be about Yale, Fiona is actually the central character, both in her involvement with her boys in the 80s and in 2015 as she goes searching for her daughter and discovers that she’s never really let go of the trauma of the 1980s; she still lives and works in Chicago at a charity shop that donates proceeds to AIDS charities even though most of the people she loved are gone.

But the world has changed in 30 years. Some of the men she knew came through the epidemic unscathed (no glove, no love, people!), some who were believed to be dead show up healthy and robust thanks to the advances in drug therapy in the late 1990s/early 2000s. And Fiona realizes that she’s the only one who hasn’t let go and moved on. And that her dedication to the memory of her boys has destroyed other, current — and incredibly important — relationships.

The Great Believers has been picked up for development by Amy Poehler, so we can probably expect to see the book made into a series within the next couple of years. Still worth reading in the interim though, especially if you lived through those awful years and are still carrying those memories around with you.