Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fictionally Speaking, Women Win

Fewer and fewer men read fiction. They compose only about 20 per cent of the fiction market according to surveys. Some lay this off to genetics, suggesting that the way men’s minds work discourages them from entering into another’s experience the way fiction demands.

Leonce Gaiter: “Fewer and
fewer men read fiction.”
“Boys and men are, in general, more convergent and linear in their thinking; this would naturally draw them towards non-fiction,” wrote author Darragh McManus, pondering the question.

Others, like Jason Pinter, suggest that the overwhelmingly female publishing industry simply overlooks books that appeal to men because they fall outside the female experience. In other words, men now suffer the same fate women suffered at the hands of a male-dominated publishing industry for so many years -- and payback’s a bitch.

Others suggest that boys are discouraged from reading at a young age by children’s books that fail to engage them. Give them the proper material, the story goes, and young boys will engage with reading. They point to the fact that young males were principal consumers of the Harry Potter books as proof. “More boys than girls have read the Harry Potter novels,” according to U.S. publisher, Scholastic. “What’s more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys' reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the statement ‘I didn't read books for fun before reading Harry Potter,’ compared with 41 percent of girls.”

I always balked at these rationales because I read fiction all the time. However, thinking on it, I had to admit that I avoid modern fiction like the plague. I have tried the popular plot-thick page-turners and the feel-good tearjerkers and the occasional cause celebre with a literary reputation.  So many have left me so cold, that I simply won’t shell out the cash for a paperback or e-book version, much less a hardcover.

Trying to assess what I found lacking in most of the current novels I attempt, I find their utter reliance on the world around them (and me) supremely dull. So many work so hard to place characters in a world I will recognize. Too many work hard to create characters with which I (or their prime demographic audience) will ‘identify,’ and recognize as someone they could be, or someone they know.

It then made sense that men would ask why they should read something “made up” about this world when there was plenty of factual reading material on that subject. I have never approached fiction to re-visit “this world.” I’m already here. Instead, I want an alternative—a vision of this world exhaled through the writers’ and characters’ hearts, minds and eyes. Exhaled with the distinction of the smell of an individual’s breath. Fitzgerald’s Long Island in The Great Gatsby is his own creation, no kitchen sink recreation. Fitzgerald’s people and prose warp this place into something utterly unique.

Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles is his distinctive projection of that city. You don’t pick up Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me with the idea of identifying with the protagonist. You don’t grab Faulkner to meet the boys next door or titter with recognition of your kith and kin. You don’t visit Patricia Highsmith to look in a mirror. You pick them up to enter worlds as fantastical in their way as Harry Potter’s. I read fiction to meet characters I otherwise would not. I read fiction for the larger than life -- not a retread of this one. I want to watch and think with characters who are nothing like me, who dare what I never would, who experience in ways that I cannot.

In an article titled, “Why Women Read More Than Men,” NPR quoted Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain suggesting a biological reason why women read more fiction than men:
The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters. 
What horseshit. Reading, and reading fiction, require no such thing. They require that you understand and grow intrigued by characters and situations. You need not imagine yourself as them or believe that they behave as you would.

Perhaps more men stopped reading fiction when fiction stopped presenting unique worlds, and settled for presenting this one so that readers could better “identify.” Maybe we’re too megalomaniacal to “identify” with that. We want words recreated, not rehashed.

“Shall I project a world,” asks Oedipa Maas in Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” Somewhere along the line, in tandem with the female domination of the publishing industry and fiction readership, the ideal of doing so fell from vogue. Instead, writers rely on identification with this one. Male readers seem have checked out. ◊

Leonce Gaiter is a prolific African American writer and proud Harvard Alum. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, NYT Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and Washington Post, and he has written two novels.  His newly released novel, In the Company of Educated Men, is a literary thriller with socio-economic, class, and racial themes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Don Quixote’s Long-Lost Remains Found

Actually, the long-lost remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. From The Telegraph:
Forensic experts reported that they had discovered two series of tacks forming the thumb-sized initials “MC” on a coffin in the crypt believed to contain Cervantes’ remains. The bones inside the coffin, which are apparently mixed up with those of other burials, are now being analysed to see if they belong to the writer. 
Although Cervantes is Spain’s best-known writer, and said to be the first novelist, the exact whereabouts of his earthly remains has been a mystery for centuries.
And just in case you thought authors in the good ol’ days of the 16th century were the ones who landed the bucks, there’s this:
The penniless author was buried in April 1616 in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, a nunnery in Madrid’s historic Barrio de las Letras quarter. But after the building was reconstructed in 1673, the precise location of the grave was lost.
And though the search was exhaustive, it finishes well ahead of schedule:
Some 20 forensic scientists began the latest series of excavations last April, locating five different possible locations for graves using a geo-radar system inside the convent’s walls. The aim was to complete the investigation by early 2016, when there will be joint celebrations to mark the anniversary of the deaths of both Cervantes and Shakespeare – who died 10 days before the Spanish author.
The full piece is here.


This Just In… Lila and the Dandelion by Sheryl Hershey

Lila is a little girl who listens with her heart and speaks with her hands. She and Dandelion help make the world a better place in this children’s book.

You can order Lila and the Dandelion here. Visit author Sheryl Hershey on the web here. ◊

This Just In...
 is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Crime Fiction: The Burning Room
by Michael Connelly

(Editor’s note: This review comes from Anthony Rainone, a contributing editor to January Magazine and a (too-infrequent) contributor to The Rap Sheet. He lives in Brooklyn, where he writes screenplays, novels and stories.)

Los Angeles is a city in the midst of rapid change. Hotels are being renovated and renamed. Detectives are wearing expensive tasseled shoes instead of the traditional gum-soled footwear. Firmly entrenched in this neo-City of Angels, old-school LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch stands ready to do endless battle on behalf of his credo: Everyone counts or no one counts.

Each new entry in Michael Connelly’s series is a bittersweet undertaking, and The Burning Room (Little, Brown) is no different. The clock is ticking on Bosch’s mandatory retirement and his posting to the Open-Unsolved Unit. This implies that contemporary Bosch is also perhaps nearing the end of his fictional run, after 17 novel-length adventures. The character is aging in real time, so unless the author chooses to do a Barnaby Jones-type thing -- portraying an aging man using his intellect and guile, and not his decreasing brawn, to put bad guys behind bars -- we may be seeing the end of Bosch. Of course, there are tantalizing other possibilities. Maybe a new series with Bosch’s daughter, Maddie, taking up the mantle; the offspring of Bosch and deceased ex-FBI agent and gambler Eleanor Wish is already interested in police work. There is another, perhaps more thrilling possibility, however. Last year, in an interview at the Center for Fiction in Midtown Manhattan, the author alluded to back-dating Bosch and writing novels set during the time his protagonist was still in uniform. And we shouldn’t forget the Amazon TV series Bosch, which is set to debut next month. This reviewer would pay top dollar for any or all of these options.

In The Burning Room, Bosch has a new partner, Lucia “Lucky Lucy” Soto, to indoctrinate with his principles and take up his baton. Soto seems a very good candidate for such responsibilities. Like Bosch, she lost a partner and killed a suspect. She also carries childhood scars, just as Bosch does, with the same burning desire to avenge those past wrongs. At first, Bosch doesn’t know what to make of Soto. She earned her detective shield by killing armed robbers while a patrol officer, and thereby garnered a coveted spot in the Open-Unsolved Unit. While earnest in her approach to the job, there is something suspicious about Soto. Only once Bosch is satisfied with her loyalties does he realize (along with the reader) that this is a dynamic personality. Soto boasts a richness and an edginess that remind me of my two favorite former Bosch partners: Jerry Edgar and Kizmin Rider.

This latest novel starts with the primary cold-case murder: the death of a Mariachi musician, Orlando Merced. Through the years, Connelly has taken his readers on his own inspired geographical tour of various L.A. locales. Here, he introduces us to Mariachi Plaza, where Mexican musicians gather to wait for gigs, and where the latest fatality occurs. The victim in question is recently deceased, but he was originally shot 10 years before. Connelly is a master at telling a small story cocooned inside an overlay of larger thematic rings, all radiating outwards. The theme of terrorism in The Overlook (2007), for example, or of mob activity in Trunk Music (1997) -- the plot of which instead hinged on infidelity. In The Burning Room, the murder of Orlando Merced. initially investigated as a gangland drive-by shooting, quickly develops into something else when a bullet lodged near Merced’s spine is finally retrieved at autopsy. It is up to Bosch and Soto to sort through a decade’s worth of rusty facts and testimony to find the truth. In a city constantly reinventing itself, though, the degradation of the human soul that resorts to murder stays constant.

While barely into the Merced investigation, Bosch is pulled away into a second cold-case that has major implications for Soto: the Bonny Brae apartment fire, which took place 21 years ago. “Nine people, most of them children, perished” in an unlicensed day-care center housed in one of the apartments. Soto was 7 years old at the time and staying in that day-care herself when the blaze broke out. Some of the children left dead in the tragedy were her friends. After first being dubious of Soto’s intentions to solve the case in her spare time, Bosch soon realizes that that long-ago fire provided one of Soto’s chief motivations to become a cop. He understands this because he took the time to solve his mother’s murder in The Last Coyote (1995), and learned much from it. Like two thoroughbreds racing against each other, the Merced murder and the Bonny Brae disaster pull Connelly’s investigators -- and his many readers -- along a course offering an increasing tempo and perilous turns. Old thematic adversaries appear again. Bosch fights against the uptight administrative behavior of his new boss, Captain George Crowder. And in both of these fictional cases, the detectives who originally investigated the crimes see Bosch and Soto as the enemy: two cops who think they know better. The truth is that Bosch does know better. Ultimately, the snake-headed monsters of politics and wealth clash with simple greed, and Connelly once more reveals the dark underbelly of sunny L.A. Both cases come down to base passions, and both are resolved in tragic ways.

At this point in his career, Harry Bosch is like finely distilled bourbon: you can taste the layers, but you’re not sure how they got there. True fans, however, can recall what ingredients helped shape him: how he fought for his professional life in The Concrete Blonde (1994); the damage that was done to his relationship with Rachel Walling in Echo Park (2006); the countless battles with former Deputy Chief Irvin Irving, most recently in The Drop (2011); and the death of his ex-wife and only true love, Eleanor Wish, in 9 Dragons (2009). Bosch is why we buy and read the books, and why we will continue to follow him, in all his glorious incantations in the near and far future. ◊

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Best Novels of the Century

Even though we’re just 15 years into our new century, BBC Culture has polled the critics to come up with a list of the top novels of the 21st so far. Topping the list is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. The book is “about New Jersey ghetto-nerd Oscar, who dreams of being the Dominican-American Tolkien and finding love.”

From The Guardian:
The list also includes Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth, Jeffrey Eugenides’ tale of hermaphrodite Calliope Stephanides, Middlesex, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, set amidst the Biafra conflict. Adichie’s Americanah, and Smith’s NW, also feature in the overall top 20, which includes three works in translation: Austerlitz by WG Sebald, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, and 2666 by Roberto Bolano.
But the Guardian seemed more concerned with what wasn’t there:
But it does not feature some of the last 14 years’ most acclaimed works, from Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom, to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Instead, BBC Culture’s critics completed their line-up of “The 21st Century’s 12 greatest novels” with Ben Fountain’s award-winning debut Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, distinguished by its “sheer wise merriment”, according to critic Steven G Kellman, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. “Chabon’s capacious, propulsive and many-storied novel is exquisitely written, emotionally rich and historically and morally profound,” said Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman.

Here’s the top dozen:

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

Monday, January 19, 2015

New in Paperback: The Last Pirate by Tony Dokoupil

If you missed The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuna (Anchor Books) when it first came out in the spring of 2014, you have a great chance to catch it now in paperback. If you enjoy memoirs featuring larger-than-life characters and strong hits of comedy with all of life’s drama, you’ll enjoy Tony  Dokoupil’s account of growing up as the son of the 1980s dope king of Miami, Anthony Edward Dokoupil.

Dokoupil ran the US operations of one of the largest marijuana rings in the 20th century. By several accounts, “Big Tony” was personally responsible for the distribution of at least fifty tons of the stuff.

“Little Tony” writes beautifully. A senior writer for NBC news, Dokoupil the journalist examines his memories and incorporates deeply personal stories into a tale that reflects not only the story of his own family, but provides an interesting and sometimes even illuminating tale about how drugs have fit into the American picture.
If you smoked Columbian weed in the 1970s and 1980s, I owe you a thank-you card. You paid for my swim lessons, bought me my first baseball glove, and kept me in the best private schools in south Florida, alongside President George H.W. Buch's grandsons, at least for a little while.
It is this personal voice that elevates The Last Pirate beyond a simply  interesting story about a colorful and somewhat tragic character. As the book begins, Dokoupil describes the end of his father’s drug dealing days in colorful strokes:
Each day ended with the ocean smeared purple, the men holding their ladies close, and the kids clustered on the bow, dreaming of shipwrecks, pirates, and buried treasures. Thew old around was fenceless and so was the future. But the Old Man was restless in this paradise. He had broken a cardinal rule of dealing and become an addict himself. Coke and hookers mostly. He left the party early in search of both.
 Dokoupil has spun pure gold. Moving, sometimes funny, gorgeously etched and compellingly told. Whatever you come to The Last Pirate expecting,  Dokoupil delivers more. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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Fewer Children Reading for Fun

A survey of survey of 2,558 US parents and children has turned up some distressing news: the number of children reading for fun is in decline. From The Guardian:
The number of American children who say they love reading books for fun has dropped almost 10% in the last four years, according to a US study, with children citing the pressure of schoolwork and other distractions.
And a new aspect of the study confirmed something that parents of readers have always known. Kids that are read to when they are teeny are more likely to read on their own.
Scholastic also surveyed the parents of children between the ages of zero and five for the first time this year in an attempt to discover what made children frequent readers. The report found that a six to 11-year-old child is more likely to be a frequent reader if they are currently read aloud to at home, if they were also read aloud to five to seven days a week before starting nursery, and if they are less likely to use a computer for fun.
The full piece is here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

This Just In… In His Way by Rebecca Duvall

Rebecca Duvall writes: 

Throughout much of my married life, I lived under the illusion that I had it all together: it was everyone else that needed fixing. Several years into my second marriage my husband, a Deputy Sheriff, became a workaholic and was never home. Meanwhile, I became a volunteeraholic, too busy to face the fact that we had become two strangers under one roof, raising three kids. 

God revealed Himself to me through the different women I volunteered with. As my heart slowly opened to God’s presence, my marriage came crashing down around me. As I cried out for God’s help, I discovered my husband’s affair. I found myself surrounded by faithful people who gave me the strength to face the problems in my marriage and the tools needed to begin fixing it. 

Over the next four years, my husband’s health deteriorated and he was forced to retire. Through this, God continually showed me I was In His Way and then, when He knew He had my attention, He would proceed to show me how to do things In His Way. In the end, what God told me to do, saved my husband’s life, and our marriage. What was broken is now fixed by the grace and love of God.

You can order In His Way here. Visit author Rebecca Duvall on the web here. ◊

This Just In...
 is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Today: Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee by William C. Davis

Few names from the era loom as large as those of the top generals from North and South each: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. In story and fable, both men have been elevated to the place of myth.

Author William C. Davis (Three Roads to the Alamo, The Pirates Lafitte) combs through the four historical meetings the two men actually had in an effort to uncover details that might have impacted where they both ended up.

Davis has said that Crucible of Command (Da Capo) is not a conventional biography. “I’m not interested detailing every incident of their lives.” Rather, “the focus is on their moral and ethical worlds, what they felt and believed and why.”

On that journey, Davis states more than once that, without the Civil War, neither man would have come close to his potential. “Without the war, Grant would have remained a civilian working in his father’s leather goods store… Lee… was dissatisfied with the army, with his life and just about everything else when the war came. It is not too much to say that both were heading nowhere when the war plucked them out of their old lives.”

Once activated, though, both men had a huge part in shaping the post-war nation.

Davis is the author of more than 50 books, and he demonstrates his experience in Crucible of Command, a magisterial dual biography that rises far, far above the average. Davis balances fact and research with searing action and penetrating personality. This very entertaining history is much more than the sum of its parts. ◊

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This Just In… Bridge Beyond Betrayal by Stephanie Parker McKean

In her Christian mystery-romance-suspense, Bridge to Nowhere, Stephanie Parker McKean sends the adventure-loving Miz Mike on her second Three Prongs mystery, combining adventure, excitement, danger -- and even murder -- with romance in a spicy reading mix. 

When successful mystery writer Michal Rice spots a dead body in a red pickup truck, she springs into action. But no one believes her and she is left searching for the elusive truck and murder victim herself. When she learns the identity of the murdered man, once again no one will believe her, not even her fiancé, Marty Richards. 

When Mike unexpectedly joins a party of bone dowsers and the body is found, Marty accuses her of witchcraft and turns against her: the ultimate betrayal. But when someone is arrested for the murder, it is the wrong someone. Mike can’t let an innocent person suffer while the real murderer escapes and she risks her life to bring the killer to justice. Her quest attracts an unusual mélange of helpers, including wildlife safari park manager Frank who is determined to replace Marty and win Mike’s heart. 

You can order Bridge Beyond Betrayal here. Visit author Stephanie Parker McKean on the web here. ◊

This Just In...
 is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Cookbooks: The Gluten Free Revolution by Jax Peters Lowell

It turns out that The Gluten Free Revolution (Holt) is such a good name for a book, it’s been used twice. Once less than a year ago on a book by blogger Caroline Shannon-Karasik and published by Skyhorse. And now on an intentionally encyclopedic work by Jax Peters Lowell, who “fired the first shot” on the gluten free revolution. Both books are valuable and have their place (though probably should have their own titles) but this isn’t a contest, That said, if it were, Lowell’s would win by virtue of thoroughness and weight alone.

The subtitle conveys Lowell’s intent: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know about Losing the Wheat, Reclaiming Your Health, and Eating Happily Ever After. Which is a lot of claims to pack into one subtitle. Still, Lowell goes a long way to deliver. From simple explanations of both the rise of interest in gluten-free foods to what the words actually mean to how to incorporate gluten-free eating into a variety of diets and lifestyles.

The recipe section is the largest in the book and its also where The Gluten-Free Revolution really comes into its own. Carrot cake, lasagna, cupcakes, and even Buckwheat Crepes Gratin with Cauliflower, Chanterelles, and Cave-Aged Gruyere, so clearly, no one is going to starve lugging this one around.

If you are on or are cons[iderig a gluten-free diet, The Gluten Free Revolution provides a very lucid foundation to a new and more healthful way to prepare food. ◊


Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Just In… Anne Frank, Silent Witnesses: Reminders of a Jewish Girl’s Life by Ronald Wilfred Jansen

Ronald Wilfred Jansen visited Anne Frank’s home addresses in Frankfurt am Main, Aachen and Amsterdam; her hiding place the Secret Annex; and the Westerbork, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps where she was imprisoned. His book describes her history and the objects that today still remind us of the environment in which she lived. 

Jansen’s motivation for writing the book was that it was one of the last opportunities he would have to contact the people who knew Anne. As a result, Jansen was able to uncover some new facts about this remarkable young woman and her world. 

Other contemporaries of Frank’s also contributed fascinating information about her surroundings. By tracing her footsteps, the author gained a more complete picture of Anne Frank and her environment.

You can order Anne Frank, Silent Witnesses here. Visit author Ronald Jansen on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Fiction: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

A beautiful moment in history is brought to life in Vanessa and Her Sister (Ballantine) with a correspondence between an as-yet-unknown group of young artist and writers who despair of ever amounting to anything. The title’s Vanessa is the painter Vanessa Bell, sister to theVirginia who would later become Woolf. Their friends include an as-yet-unpublished E.M Forster and Lytton Strachey. John Maynard Keynes is job hunting.

Here we have a fictional reworking of what-might-have-beens. An imaginative collection of notes, journal entries, postcards, letters, telegraphs, epiphanies and dreams, all wrought by the hand of Priya Parmar (Exit the Actress), who seems here to magically revisit history on our behalf, concocting a delicious and imaginative quilt from a time long past filled with names we know well.

Though the group of friends is endearingly wrought, the focus is on the sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, here coming into their maturity with alarming results. As Vanessa falls in love and pulls away into her own life, Virginia feels abandonment and a despair that at times borders on madness.

Vanessa and Her Sister is memorable and unique. Though the work is fiction, it leaves us feeling like we know a bit more about the secretive story between these dynamic sisters. ◊

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Paris Tragedy

There is nothing we wish to add to the bare facts about the horrific events that occurred in Paris yesterday. The news is everywhere at the moment and we feel there is nothing real we can contribute beyond our sorrow. From Publishing Perspectives:
The horrifying attack took place yesterday, Wednesday, January 7 at the offices of Paris-based satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo: two masked, armed men killed twelve people, including cartoonist Charb, the director of the publication, and celebrated political cartoonists Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski, wiping out the majority of the staff, which was holding an editorial meeting at the time of the attack. As the men fled, they shouted, “The prophet has been avenged,” and “We killed Charlie Hebdo,” a statement that is as chilling as it is true. Two of the cartoonists, Cabu and Wolinski were in their late 70s and early 80s, and had collaborated in the 1960s with the magazine Hara-Kiri, which was the inspiration for Charlie Hebdo.
We bow our heads.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Cookbooks: Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw

In the last month or so I’ve been in no fewer than four restaurants where mashed avocado on toast was featured on the menu. Generally completely as is, but with maybe some red pepper or lime sprinkled over top. Minimalist. Pure. Perfect. And around eight bucks a pop.

Now, understand: I’m not complaining. And I did, in fact, partake of the offered avo goodness on a couple of occasions. (And more than a couple at home.) But it was not until reading Choosing Raw: Making Raw Foods Part of the Way You Eat (Da Capo/Life Long) by Gena Hamshaw that I thought of this as raw food. Which, of course, it is. Hamshaw elevates it with style rather than a lot of messing around. “I find avocado to be a better toast topping than butter or cream cheese ever was, and it’s so much richer in antioxidants and healthy, unsaturated fats.”

Though even for raw “cooking” the recipe for Simple Avocado Toast is… well… simple, effortless health is the key to Choosing Raw. “Plant-based eating can feel like a seismic shift at first,” writes Hamshaw, “but the truth is that planning a healthy vegan diet isn’t so different from planning any kind of healthy diet.”

This down-to-earth approach to the entire question sets Choosing Raw apart.  From her explanations about her personal journey -- beginning with veganism for health reasons and coming later to the ethical aspects. And then, as a nutritionist, coming back to the heart of the matter:
In the absence of enzyme theory, it makes sense to ask why anyone would bother eating raw food. My answer is that the benefits of raw food go far beyond the enzymes! Raw foods are hydrating, rich in fiber, and full of antioxidants. They’re innovative, colorful, crisp and fresh.
Because this is a new field for many, Hamshaw includes a FAQ section as well as one on myths and misconceptions. There is also a section on setting up the vegan kitchen. And those just getting started on a raw or vegan lifestyle will find the author’s 21 day meal plan especially helpful as it can act as  a roadmap to what can at first seem like a very new and different way of life.

The Bulk of Choosing Raw, however, is given up to what we stood in line for: the food. Hamshaw starts us off with basics: hand made almond milk. A basic green smoothie. Cashew cheese. And then recipes from every part of each day and meal. A few favorites: the Raw Pad Thai is based on kelp noodles, cabbage and a lot of traditional flavors. And Hamshaw’s Pumpkin Quinoa Risotto with Pomegranate Seeds is more than a nod at traditional risotto. And for those vegans who are missing their dairy, the Cashew Banana Yogurt is a satisfying and healthful alternative. At lunchtime, the Dilly Raw Vegan Sunflower “Tuna Salad” provides a great sandwich filler and the Raw Lasagna kind of really isn’t, but it IS delicious.

There are 125 recipes in Choosing Raw and it’s a terrific book. Even those not interested in pursuing a raw foods lifestyle will find their knowledge and recipe file enhanced. ◊


Zuckerberg’s Book Club

What do Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and media maven Orpah Winfrey have in common? Well, probably more than a little, but what we’re looking at today is Zuckerberg’s newest venture: a book club.

Zuckerberg started out his Facebook year by announcing that his “challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week -- with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.”

The first book mentioned on Zuckerberg’s newly created Facebook page A Year of Books is The End of Power by Moisés Naím (Basic Books, 2013). Subtitled From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be, “It’s a book that explores how the world is shifting to give individual people more power that was traditionally only held by large governments, militaries and other organizations,” Zuck writes. “The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply, and I’m looking forward to reading this book and exploring this in more detail.”

Since The End of Power was in Amazon’s number 86 position at time of writing, it would seem likely that Zuckerberg’s literary pronouncements might pack the same wallop Oprah’s did at the height of her powers in the 1990s.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Goose Lane at Sixty

In 2015, the distinguished all-Canadian publisher, martime-based Goose Lane Editions turns 60.

Last fall, to mark the anniversary, the house published a fantastic collection, tiny but splendid collection. Goose Lane selected six “tiny perfect stories” and published them in six, well… tiny perfect books. Each story is individually bound, though offered as part of a set under a specially designed sleeve.

The resulting package is… well, truly special, representing, in a way, Goose Lane’s glorious past, as well as it’s shining future.

Included is Alden Nowlan’s “A Boy’s Life With Napolean,” published posthumously in 1988. Also included are titles by Lynn Coady, Douglas Glover, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Mark Anthony Jarman. The collection is precious, in the best possible way, and memorable. A sliver of the best Canadian writing of all time: which, when you think about it, sums illustrious sexagenarian Goose Lane up pretty well.

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

New This Week: The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Pragg

Menna van Praag’s highly anticipated second novel (after 2013’s The House at the End of Hope Street) delights with elements of fantasy, fairy tale and magical realism. Beautifully written and vibrantly shared, it’s a tough tale not to fall in love with.

Cora Sparks, a scientist, lost her parents under mysterious circumstances many years ago. Since then, Cora has immersed herself in her work and in the corners of her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. What Cora doesn’t know -- though we all suspect -- is that one should never underestimate the power of a good dress. And there is magic waiting in the shop’s corners that will help her realize all of her dreams: even the most important ones.

Make no mistake, The Dress Shop of Dreams (Ballantine) is a classic love story, but the well applied tastes of magic and fairytales bring the tale to a different level. Menna van Praag knows how to tell a story. And she does it with charm and even panache. The Dress Shop of Dreams is just the right tale with which to begin a fantastic new year of reading. ◊

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This Just In… The Book of Barkley: Love and Life Through the Eyes of a Labrador Retriever by LB Johnson

It is a story, not one of science, and one that may not be remembered past this one lifetime. It is the story of someone who did not know his destiny, but followed it with unfaltering step, bound to his human companion, not by vows or paper, but in the name of the trust that was the best part of his nature. 

It is a story of the one that taught her to love, even as he occasionally barfed on the carpet. It is simply the tale of a black Labrador retriever named Barkley. It was the beginning never anticipated; belief that there were no limits that made tragedy inevitable, a gentle nuzzle that made the walls fall away, and the pull of the leash into the day’s infinitude. It was an ending she did not expect; a leash laid across the chair, an empty bed, a glass tipped over, spilling the blood of wine. The noise that an empty room makes is as clear as tears.

In between, there are the stories, of friends, of joy and dog hair, of a small pink ball with feet known as Mr. Squeaky, which became the mortal enemy at dawn, as she tried to sleep. It is the story of rambunctious trespasses such as “the bacon incident” and the loving trust that bound a lonely road warrior and a dog together in unspoken understanding.

The Book of Barkley is a tribute and memoir that will resonate with everyone who has reached out without thinking to their pet... only to remember that their beloved friend is no longer present. The Book of Barkley is a love story that will enrich every animal lover's library.

You can order The Book of Barkley here. Visit author LB Johnson on the web here. ◊

This Just In...
 is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Friday, January 02, 2015

Literary Thoughts for a Brand New Year

“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.” -- Maya Angelou
It’s a brand new year. And who better to help us shape and inspire the year that will be than our favorite authors?
“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” -- Anaïs Nin
Though, as The Huffington Post reminds us:
Great writers don’t always offer the words of undiluted inspiration we’d like; their keen insight and penchant for honesty about the human condition produces observations about our weakness, our sins or about how painful history can shadow our futures (“The past is never dead. It's not even past,” as William Faulkner wrote).
HuffPo collects “15 galvanizing passages from your favorite authors” here.