Food, Family, Feuds: A Patron Picks Reading List
Dysfunctional families, memorable characters, delicious recipes, heartwarming humor, and a real life high stakes feud are some of the topics we discussed at our November What Are You Reading? meeting. What books related to food, family, or feuds would you recommend?
If you enjoy swapping book recommendations with other readers, please join us on Friday, December 8 at 2 PM to share great winter reads. Our December theme is Winter is Here! We’d love to hear about the books you curl up with in the cold weather. Do you gravitate towards cozy, heartwarming stories? Epic sagas? Challenging works of nonfiction? Come tell us what you're reading.
Joan enjoyed The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller.
“This is an engaging story about a successful woman baker and how her talent for baking enhances her life as well as all her relationships.Well-written and very enjoyable.”
Joan also mentioned that the descriptions of the pies, cakes, and cookies that the character Livvy bakes in the book were truly mouth-watering. Author Louise Miller is a professional pastry chef, and more of her recipes can be found on her Louise the Baker Tumblr.
Phyllis mentioned one of her favorite tried and true cookbooks, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten (1999). She finds the recipes really work well, delicious and relatively simple to prepare. Ina Garten has published many more cookbooks since the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, the most recent being Cooking for Jeffrey.
Emily brought her copy of How to Be a Jewish Mother by Dan Greenburg, published in 1964. She told us the book had originally belonged to her mother, but Emily took it with her when she married. “This is a warm, funny discussion of the 'Jewish mother' presented in the form of a mock training manual on how to act like one.”
Emily also recommended the “drama with a capital D,” August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, saying that the family depicted in the award-winning play will make you think your family is normal, no matter how dysfunctional you think they are. There's also a really intense family food scene featuring fish.
Pat recommended A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1967).
“A funny and provocative Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel about the Don Quixotish Ignatius J. Reilly. A carnival of characters in a contemporary New Orleans setting.”
One of literature's most memorable characters, Ignatius hits all three of our themes with his fraught relationship with his mother, his perpetual feud with the modern world and just about everyone in it, and his idiosyncratic food choices.
We also discussed how the story of the book’s posthumous publication is just as fascinating as the novel itself. Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by Cory MacLauchlin.
Joan M. has been reading a lot about Russia lately, and she highly recommends Bill Browder’s 2015 memoir, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice. She explained what she had learned from the book about hedge fund investment in 1990’s Russia following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., Browder’s discovery of high-level corruption, his expulsion from Russia, and the death of his attorney Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian jail, leading to the passage of the Magnitsky Act in the United States in 2012. Joan also noted that this nonfiction book grips the reader like a page-turning thriller.
Melissa recommended The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’s 2005 memoir about growing up in an unconventional, not to say, dysfunctional, family. She found the strong characters and the story of Walls’s journey from her nomadic childhood with “misguided” parents plagued by addiction to a successful career in journalism to be deeply engaging. She was also curious about the other family members’ perspectives, though, something a memoir can’t really deliver.
Finally, we discussed the fictional family embroiled in an inheritance feud in Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney’s 2016 debut novel, The Nest. Thanks to the irresponsibility of one brother, four estranged, middle-aged siblings must confront the possible loss of the trust or “nest” that they’ve always counted on receiving when the youngest turns 40. The characters are so well-drawn and the dialog so pithy and convincing that I became deeply absorbed in the lives of people I didn’t think I’d care much about. And on a practical note, Pat mentioned that for some participants in her book discussion group at the Kips Bay Library, The Nest got them seriously thinking about estate planning they needed to do.