The Rise by Marcus Samuelsson

My husband and I both like to cook and we have an extensive cookbook collection. We often buy cookbooks when we travel to remember the places we visited through the food we ate. And we love cookbooks that have stories. In December we saw an interview with Marcus Samuelsson, chef and owner of the famed Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. He was talking about his new cookbook, The Rise. It is an amazing book highlighting the wonderful Black chefs in our country, including our own local Eduardo Jordan owner of Salare, Junebaby, and Lucinda Grains, all very close to our home. We so enjoy these places, and we’ve done lots of take out from Junebaby during the pandemic.

I bought The Rise for Larry for Christmas. Samuelsson includes with each recipe a story of the chef. Each recipe’s heading is “In Honor of (or sometimes in Memory of)” a chef’s name. It makes us feel honored to read these stories and to make this amazing food. We’ve done some cooking from it and really love it. (The cooking part has had its ups and downs!)

This book was just being completed when the pandemic hit. Marcus Samuelsson let José Andrés’ amazing World Central Kitchen team transform Red Rooster into a community kitchen to feed hundreds of people a day. You can learn more about World Central Kitchen here: The story of these last few months infuses the stories of these Black chefs so that we can all enter more deeply into the experience of this time.

Samuelsson writes this at the end of his note at the beginning of the volume:

The Rise was created to highlight the incredible talent and journey of Black chefs, culinarians, and writers at work today; and to show how the stories we tell can help make a more equitable, just industry. I hope this work, and this moment, leads us to raising up Black winemakers, authors, and farmers. I hope it leads to us supporting the next generation of Black chefs and hospitality workers who will change our industry forever. And I hope that this movement becomes a part of a permanent and much broader social change.

So much beauty and achievement has come has come out of tough times throughout history, and it is inspiring to see communities across the globe coming together to care for one another. We also know that the road “back” from the current crisis will be harder for Black people because of the systemic challenges that disproportionately affect Black restaurateurs and creators of all kinds. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to help bring more equity to this industry. …

We are the Black Food Community: Black chefs, Black servers, Black bartenders, Black food writers, Black culinary historians, Black recipe developers. Our food stems from challenged communities and challenged times. It comprises enslavement, poverty, war, yet our food has soul, and has inspired and fed many. We will rise, we will shine, we are survivors.

Black Food Matters.”

(Marcus Samuelsson, The Rise, Voracious/Little Brown and Company, 2020, p. xv)

Angela Thirkell

Today a friend sent a link to a Washington Post article from December 22, 2020, with recommendations from their book people for “light” reading in these tumultuous times. I put the word “light” in quotations because I think that often we dismiss novels that are fun as of lesser value than more “weighty” tomes. I think that’s unfortunate, as these novels are wonderful, revealing, funny, and the writing is usually splendid.

One author that appeared in this list is Angela Thirkell (1890-1961). I listed her in a blog post on June 3, 2019, when writing about authors on my shelves that I’d be happy to read again. Thirkell was English but lived in Australia for a while during her second marriage, and then returned to England. She was a very prolific writer, and her novels, which she sets in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire, are great send-ups of English society between the wars.

There are 29 Barsetshire novels! I haven’t come close to reading them all, but here are the ones that are on my shelf:

  • High Rising (1933)
  • Wild Strawberries (1934)
  • August Folly (1936)
  • Pomfret Towers (1938)
  • Before Lunch (1939)
  • Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940)
  • Northbridge Rectory (1941)

Do enjoy this “light” reading!

Foreign Affairs, Take 2

I finished this book a couple days ago and it was really good! I’m looking forward to what my book group colleagues have to say about it when we Zoom together next week.

The story has one truly surprising turn of events. I literally gasped out loud when I read it! No hints here. Read the book! Check out my first post on 1 January.

I am still trying to process the events of yesterday. What a terrible and difficult time in our country. It made me think about what are the best books to read about the United States. I’d love to hear what some of you have read or would like to read.

Robertson Davies

My post about Steve Burrows Birder Mysteries encouraged me to start reading A Siege of Bitterns yesterday and I am enjoying it! The fun titles of those books reminded me of other similar lists, including the one on my husband’s long-time waste basket that sits by his desk.

These lists also brought to mind the wonderful writing of Robertson Davies (1913-1995). Davies was a Canadian actor, director, drama professor, and prolific novelist. Among his novels are four trilogies:
The Salterton Trilogy [Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954), A Mixture of Frailties (1958)]
The Deptford Trilogy [Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), World of Wonders (1975)]
The Cornish Trilogy [The Rebel Angels (1981), What’s Bred in the Bone (1985), The Lyre of Orpheus (1988)]
The “Toronto Trilogy” (incomplete) [Murther and Walking Spirits (1991), The Cunning Man (1994)]

The Rebel Angels is one of my favorites, featuring Simon Darcourt, an Anglican priest and medieval scholar. Darcourt is asked to investigate a research scientist, Ozias Froats, who is analyzing human feces and making the university’s donors very uneasy. When Darcourt goes to visit Froats in his laboratory, he leaves there musing on the research in terms of human names for the leavings of animals. Here’s the paragraph:

“What a lot we had found out about the prehistoric past from the study of fossilized dung of long-vanished animals. A miraculous thing, really; a recovery of the past from what was carelessly rejected. And in the Middle Ages, how concerned people who lived close to the world of nature were with the faeces of animals. And what a variety of names they had for them: the Crotels of a Hare, the Friants of a Boar, the Spraints of an Otter, the Werderobe of a Badger, the Waggying of a Fox, the Fumets of a Deer. Surely there might be some words for the material so dear to the heart of Ozy Froats better than shit? What about the Problems of a President, the Backward Passes of a Footballer, the Deferrals of a Dean, the Odd Volumes of a Librarian, the Footnotes of a Ph.D., the Low Grades of a Freshman, the Anxieties of an Untenured Professor? As for myself, might it not appropriately be called the Collect for the Day?” (Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels, Penguin, 1983, p. 113.)

Just reading through the titles makes me excited to re-read Robertson Davies. If you don’t know these novels, you have a real treat ahead. And I’ll start again with The Rebel Angels, just as soon as I finish reading about birds in Norfolk!

The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy Book 1) by [Robertson Davies]

Birder Murder Mysteries

When we go to Tofino, BC, which we do every year for at least a month, we always stop in at the local bookstore, Mermaid Tales. We always find fun and interesting reading there, often things we’d miss at our usual US book haunts. I found Iona Whishaw there, and a couple years ago my husband discovered Steve Burrows’ Birder Murder Mysteries. I haven’t had a chance to read these yet, but Larry can hardly put them down! He’s read them all now, so he hopes for a new one soon. I’ve also learned that they’re making a TV series based on the books, which will be fun!

Burrows is a Brit who lives in Canada, and his detective in these books, Domenic Jejeune, is a Canadian living in the UK. Friends who are keen birders (we’re interested beginners) say the books are really good about the whole birding thing. And one of these days the Canadian border will open again and we can go back to Tofino and make other wonderful discoveries.

Here they are in order, with their delightful titles:

A Siege of Bitterns (2014)
A Pitying of Doves (2015)
A Cast of Falcons (2016)
A Shimmer of Hummingbirds (2017)
A Tiding of Magpies (2018)
A Dance of Cranes (2019

Kate Shackleton Mysteries by Frances Brody

Recently I caught up with a mystery series I really enjoy. Frances Brody writes about Kate Shackleton, a WWI widow with good skill for sleuthing. These books match a lot of my favorite reading categories: in England between WWI and WWII, set in Yorkshire (Brody lives there), and a female protagonist. Brody does great research and has captured the time period with its interesting, and sometimes sad, history very well. Her characters are really fun. I highly recommend these. The cover art is cool, too!

  • Dying in the Wool (2009)
  • A Medal For Murder (2010)
  • Murder in the Afternoon (2011)
  • A Woman Unknown (2012)
  • Murder on a Summer’s Day (2013)
  • Death of an Avid Reader (2014)
  • A Death in the Dales (2015)
  • Death at the Seaside (2016)
  • Death in the Stars (2017)
  • A Snapshot of Murder (2018)
  • The Body on the Train (2019)
  • Death and the Brewery Queen (2020)
Dying in the Wool: A Kate Shackleton Mystery (A Kate Shackleton Mystery, 1)

The Mutual Admiration Society by Mo Moulton

I was supposed to be in England in August attending the annual convention of the Dorothy L, Sayers Society. I haven’t been to one since 1984, so I was looking forward to it! It was scheduled to be at Somerville College in Oxford where Sayers studied. The author Mo Moulton was to be one of the speakers. In lieu of the convention I read her new-ish book The Mutual Admiration Society, and I am so glad I did. The book’s subtitle is “How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women.” Moulton has written what I think is the best book about Sayers. Her research is amazing, and by describing Sayers in her close and supportive circle of friends we learn much more than we knew before.

Sayers’ friends that form the core group from Somerville are Muriel St. Clare Byrne, Charis Barnett, and Dorothy Rowe. As with all long friendships there were times that were closer and better than others, and other of their friends moved in and out of the circle. But this core group not only supported and strengthened each other but critiqued and encouraged one another’s work. They were among the first women to receive their degrees from Oxford University. On October 14, 1920, Sayers, St. Clare Byrne, and Muriel “Jim” Jaeger, celebrated this breakthrough in the lives and careers of women These women are our leaders in so many ways.

Sayers is, of course, most noted for her mystery novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The last one, Busman’s Honeymoon, started as a play written by Sayers and some of her friends. Sayers dedicates the book to Muriel St. Clare Byrne, Helen Simpson, and Marjorie Barber. In her longer dedication she includes this paragraph: “…Muriel, … you wrote with me the play to which this novel is but the limbs and outward flourishes; my debt and your long-suffering are all the greater. You, Helen and Bar, were wantonly sacrificed on the altar of that friendship of which the female sex is said to be incapable; let the lie stick i’ the wall!” It is about such friendship that Moulton writes and I cannot recommend The Mutual Admiration Society more highly.

End note: The Dorothy L. Sayers convention was shifted to the exact same time frame at Somerville in 2021 , and I am booked for it! I hope Mo Mouton will still be one of the speakers, but just celebrating these amazing women in their place will be grand.


Foreign Affairs: A Novel, by Alison Lurie

I made myself a New Year’s promise to get back to writing this reading journal. Over these last four months or so my reading hasn’t been particularly focused, and I certainly chose books that I could cruise through without much further attention. Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light sits at my bedside with a bookmark still at about page 30 where I left it when I put it down in March. Thomas’s Cromwell’s ongoing politics just didn’t quite fit my mood in these anxious days.

I am currently reading Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. It’s the next selection of my book group. Lurie, who died on December 3, 2020, is a wonderful writer who draws you right into the heart of this story about two academic colleagues from the same college who are both on sabbatical in England. One, Fred, is a 28 year-old man. The other, Vinnie, is a 54 year-old woman. The story is a good one and quite funny.

There was one section at the beginning that really spoke to me. I love England, and especially London, where I can walk for hours and hours. Just stepping onto a London sidewalk infuses me with energy, sometimes to the detriment of people who are walking along with me! When I read these words about Vinnie’s love of England I totally identified with them. So I leave this for your pleasure and invite you to read Foreign Affairs.

“England, for Vinnie, is and has always been the imagined and desired country. For a quarter of a century she visited it in her mind, where it had been slowly and lovingly shaped and furnished out of her favorite books, from Beatrix Potter to Anthony Powell. When at last she saw it she felt like the children in John Masefield’s The Box of Delights who discover that they can climb into the picture on their sitting-room wall. The landscape of her interior vision had become life-size and three-dimensional; she could literally walk into the country of her mind. From the first hour England seemed dear and familiar to her; London, especially, was almost an experience of déjà vu. She also felt that she was a nicer person there and that her life was more interesting. These sensations increased rather than diminished with time, and have been repeated as often as Vinnie could afford. Over the past decade she has visited England nearly every year—though usually, alas, for only a few weeks. Tonight she will begin her longest stay yet: an entire six months. Her fantasy is that one day she will be able to live in London permanently, even perhaps become an Englishwoman. A host of difficulties—legal, financial, practical—are involved in this fantasy, and Vinnie has no idea how she could ever solve them all; but she wants it so much that perhaps one day it can be managed. Many teachers of English, like Vinnie, fall in love with England as well as with her literature. With familiarity, however, their infatuation often declines into indifference or even contempt. If they long for her now, it is as she was in the past—most often, in the period of their own specialization: for the colorful, vital England of Shakespeare’s time, or the lavish elegance and charm of the Edwardian period. With the bitterness of disillusioned lovers, they complain that contemporary Britain is cold, wet, and overpriced; its natives unfriendly; its landscape and even its climate ruined. England is past her prime, they say; she is worn-out and old; and, like most of the old, boring. Vinnie not only disagrees, she secretly pities those of her friends and colleagues who claim to have rejected England, since it is clear to her that in truth England has rejected them. The chill they complain of is a matter of style. Englishmen and Englishwomen do not open their arms and hearts to every casual passerby, just as English lawns do not flow into the lawns next door. Rather they conceal themselves behind high brick walls and dense prickly hedges, turning their coolest and most formal side to strangers. Only those who have been inside know how warm and cozy it can be there. Her colleagues’ complaints about the weather and the scenery Vinnie puts down to mere blind pique, issuing as they do from people whose native landscape is devastated by billboards, used-car lots, ice storms, and tornadoes. As for the claim that nothing much ever happens here, this is one of England’s greatest charms for Vinnie, who has just escaped from a nation plagued by sensational and horrible news events, and from a university periodically disrupted by political demonstrations and drunken student brawls. She sinks into her English life as into a large warm bath agitated only by the gentle ripples she herself makes and by the popping of bubbles of foam as some small scandal swells up and breaks, spraying the air with the delightful soapy spume of gossip. In Vinnie’s private England a great deal happens; quite enough for her, at least.”

Lurie, Alison. Foreign Affairs: A Novel (pp. 18-19). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Foreign Affairs: A Novel

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This was the selection for my book group months ago. We had chosen not to meet on Zoom once the gathering restrictions started, so we met in person in my backyard at the beginning of this week. (We’re a small group – just five of us – so it’s easy to meet and talk at a safe distance.) It was really good to catch up and talk about how these months have been.

Even though we had this book on the list for months, I started reading it on Saturday night and hadn’t quite finished on Monday. I had been a little wary of this book because it is about the brutality at a “school” for teenage boys who had been arrested for crimes they did, or in the case of the black protagonist, didn’t do. But I am so glad I read this book. Although the descriptions are horrific, it is just another piece of sorrowful knowledge of the power of systemic racism.

At the beginning I was trying to identify the time frame. Then the author mentioned the Cassius Clay/Sonny Liston fights, and I noted that happened in 1964-1965. I was a teenager then just like these boys. It really brought the dismal truth home to think about it that way.

Although this is a novel, it is based on a real school in Florida, the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The story came out when a group of archaeology students from the University of South Florida came upon a bunch of unmarked graves at the former school site. Just that knowledge itself is enough to clue you in on the terrible tragedy of such a place.

This is a shortish – 224 pages – and Whitehead is a wonderful writer. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and I can certainly see why. This is a fine book.