Happy weekend everyone! Let's talk books. It's time for the September edition of A Blogging Good Read and joining me this month are Hazel from World of Joy and Billygean from Billygean.co.uk
Our first book this month was my choice, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket:
You may think that a recipe book is an odd choice. The joy of that particular genre of book tends to lie in looking at the pictures and trying out the recipes, not sitting down and enjoying the words. That's not to say that this book is lacking in either of those things - the illustrations are lovely and the recipes are top-notch. I particularly like Paddington Bear's Marmalade Buns and the cherry cake that the book is named after but everything I've made from it has been great.
The main reason I like it so much more than a normal recipe book is that it's such a delicious mixture of two of my favourite things: children's literature and food. It's immensely comforting to pick it up, dip into a section at random and find yourself in the midst of a discussion about Milly-Molly-Mandy or Mary Poppins. Even if you're not in a cooking mood it's a joy to read. I chose it because I hoped that it gives other people who pick it up that same sense of nostalgia and satisfaction that I get from it.
Incidentally, does anyone want to come round for afternoon tea in the winter so that I can make the Mrs Beaver's marmalade roll recipe from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe? It seems way too decadent to just make it for myself.
Were the other two as seduced by this book as I was? Over to Billygean:
I loved this book. It is a combination of wistful stories and descriptions of times gone by, and nostalgic recipes for childhood treats, such as cress sandwiches and real dairy ices. Each recipe is preceded by a blurb about the food, ingredients, or tradition related to it. The book was really inspiring, in a funny way; it made me want to make ginger beer and indulge in proper elevenses and have lots of children and feed them scones with homemade jam after school. As somebody who doesn’t want children and who doesn’t make enough room in her life for food, this was certainly surprising! The book is beautifully presented with a tactile, retro front cover, evocatively written and the recipes seem easy to follow. A great read!
Did Hazel enjoy it too?
I adore this book. My first mistake was to try and read it when I was hungry - at the very least this book deserves a cup of tea as accompaniment. It is first and foremost a recipe book, but one that has been inspired by children's books.
I knew I would enjoy this book when, four pages in, mention of Milly Molly Mandy was made. Very few people seem to remember her but I read her stories over and over as a girl, so it was wonderful to see her make an appearance here. Jane Brocket's easy, chatty writing style is a delight, conjuring up vivid memories of my childhood both literary and culinary. It's been over two decades since I ate a jam tart or marmalade bun, something which I fully intend to remedy soon.
Hazel's selection was Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom:
For me this book is about acceptance, love and making sense of it all. It spoke to me in a way that no other book ever has. It details the time the author spent with Morrie Schwartz, his 78-year-old sociology professor, in the time before he died - this isn't a plot spoiler, Morrie had Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). The genuine respect and depth of feeling between these two men is evident as Albom relays accounts of their time spent together in college and the Tuesday afternoons spent years later in Morrie's study. In short, this book is a life lesson, often sentimental but honest.
I'd love to hear what others take from this book. I read it whilst on holiday in Sicily, I can clearly remember sitting by a pool in the sun, over looking Mount Eta unable to put it down and laughing and crying in turn.
Oh dear. I think I am either too cynical or not American enough for this book. Probably both. Either way, I don't have a good tolerance threshold for self help books and Tuesdays With Morrie is basically that, with the veil of a loose biography thrown over the top. It feels awful in a way to criticise it, because Morrie was a real person and I'm sure he was a lovely man, but he's not the sort of person I'd have chosen to spend my Tuesdays with.
It's part description of old age and incipient death, part biography (of both the author and Morrie) and part schmaltzy sayings for living a better life. A lot of it came across as trite rather than deep and meaningful. It's just not my thing at all.
Let's see if Billygean is in the love camp with Hazel or the loathe camp with me:
I enjoyed Tuesdays with Morrie. It is a small, easy-to-read book. The subject matter really intrigued me; I don’t often read books so explicitly about death and dying but this book really aimed to soothe people worried about death, and so I felt I got quite a lot out of it. My only criticism was that it could have been a lot longer and more in-depth; we didn’t really learn too much about choices the narrator made since attending Morrie’s life classes, and, although I understood that the narrator was trying to demonstrate that he wasn’t living a very authentic life before he spent time with Morrie, he wasn’t actually very likeable. Often, the author would cover huge topics like ‘work’ in just a few pages, so sometimes it read as a series of pithy quotes rather than an in-depth didactic novel. However it was an easy, sweet read and I did reflect on my own views of life and death while reading it.
Her choice of book was On Beauty by Zadie Smith:
On Beauty wasn’t the first “literary” book I read, and nor was it the first engaging, easy-to-read book I read, but it was one of the first books I’ve read which was both. Based on Howard’s End, it’s really a story with just so much scope: marriage, race, class, education, family, sex, love, work, what it is to be British… There is almost nothing this book doesn’t cover. But the main reason I love it so much is that I genuinely believe every character in it is alive.
What did Hazel think?
This book is about a family, the Belseys and their many interactions with the Kipps family. I really liked the characters of both matriarchs, Kiki and Carlene. Smith introduced them in perfect detail and their emerging friendship felt very real. Other characters, like the sons, Jerome or Michael, were not written so completely and I felt I did not know them, whereas other characters with minor parts seemed to have a lengthy introduction only to never be seen again.
Having won the Orange prize for fiction in 2006, I had high expectations for this book but sadly, they were not met. I felt the book could have been shorter. Smith has a wonderful turn of phrase and captures every last detail beautifully but at points I found this to be unnecessary and detracted from the story. I enjoyed the start of the book, where the story is being set up and the families introduced but my interest faded. I began not to care about the outcome.
Would I recommend On Beauty? I don't think so. Would I read more by Zadie Smith? Probably not.
I thought that On Beauty was a complete bore of a book. I can like novels that meander along and lack plot. I can like novels with characters that are true to life in the sense that they're immensely unlikeable and don't grow/change/redeem themselves throughout the course of the book. I can like the dense, intricate writing style that seems to so often characterise literary fiction. I can't like a book that is a combination of all three things; not when there are no other redeeming features. Nothing about this book interested or engaged me.
I got to the end of it and I'm still really quite confused about what Zadie Smith was trying to achieve. It seemed set up to be an exploration of race and class, then a sideways look at the snobbery and mediocrity of academia and then something more political but it never really fired on any of those levels. I like her writing style but that wasn't enough to save it for me.
Gosh, I was quite mardy in my reviews this time, wasn't I? Have you read any of these three books and if so, do your thoughts differ? I'm interested to know if anyone thinks it's worth me trying another Zadie Smith book. I hear really good things about her but there were just a lot of things about this book that didn't grab me.
Thanks so much to Hazel and Billygean for joining in this month. In fact, extra special thanks to both of them as things changed mid-month and they were both complete gems. I'm just sorry I didn't like either of their choices!
If you'd like to read along and join in next month then the books under discussion will be The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and Ancestral Voices by James Lees-Milne.