Nadia’s 6th and 7th books

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Ok well, 6th and almost 7th books.  You can see from the bookmark on the right in Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit that I am not quite done–only about 30 pages to go, and since it is way too cold and snowy to do anything outside today (-2, 6 more inches of snow), I am planning to nest myself under a few blankets and finish reading the book.

These last two books couldn’t be more different, and yet both are fascinating non-fiction works in which the authors’ voices are clear and distinct.  And each conveys so much information and history that I feel as if I would like to read them both again right away.  Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat is a completely engrossing story of how we have come to use the tools we have in the kitchen, a tour of the evolution of the objects we take most for granted–wooden spoons, forks, knives, and how we have come to eat and prepare food in the way we consider modern and up-to-date.  She writes about how the kitchen came to be such a focus of family life (and high-end real estate!), and where the techniques we use almost without thinking in everyday cooking have come from.  Food is such an essential part of our lives that we often lose sight of just how crucial the mastery and development of how to cook in the first place was (and still is, despite the microwave) to humanity.  She writes, “But there is no getting beyond food, which is a fuel, a habit, a higher pleasure, and a base need, the thing that gives pattern to our days or that gnaws us with its lack” (xii).  Wilson also points out that, interestingly, knives predate the taming of fire; they are “the oldest tool in a cook’s armory, older than the management of fire by somewhere between 1 million and 2 million years, depending on which anthropologist you believe” (42).  It’s good that humanity developed an alternate use for the brutality and danger of knives!  She also writes about ice and the ways food was kept fresh before the invention of even the non-electric ice box, and how much easier our lives have become now that all of the demanding physical chores and drudgery of the kitchen have been eliminated by nifty tools such as the OXO peeler, the whisk, and well-made pots and pans.  She has an excellent chapter on the problems of measuring, and the difficulties we have here in America where we mostly insist on measuring things like flour and sugar in increments of cups instead of by weight, as is done in the rest of the modern world.  This is a wonderful book, and I especially love the end where she writes, “There is still one more component to this meal, however: the impulse to make it in the first place.  Kitchens only come alive when you cook in them” (277).   I am looking forward to reading Wilson’s next book, First Bite: How We Learn To Eat.

Rebecca Solnit’s book, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness inhabits a completely different world: instead of the inward and personal space within our homes and kitchens, she writes about the outward world and the political and geographical implications of living in modern society.  The book is made up of 26 lyrical and polemical essays she has written in the past ten years, arranged alphabetically by a key word in the title (hence, the “encyclopedia”).  Inside the front cover is a map of the world and each place that she has visited and written from–the Arctic, Haiti, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, California, and New Orleans, among even more.  She writes about environmentalism and the aftermath of disaster–the BP Gulf Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami–and also current flashpoints such as the Google Bus in San Francisco and the displacement of long-time residents by outrageously wealthy and oblivious tech sector workers who are destroying the concept of public transportation too.  Solint is an engrossing and passionate writer–her essays grab you with the breadth of her knowledge and curiosity and the power of her moral outrage.  She feels that non-fiction is the most crucial form to convey her intentions in writing: “Nonfiction is the whole realm from investigative journalism to prose poems, from manifestos to love letters, from dictionaries to packing lists.  This territory to which I am officially consigned couldn’t be more spacious, and I couldn’t be more free to roam its expanses.  And maybe the variety of forms here is part of the book’s breadth along with its geographical range” (4).  There is also an essay on Thoreau, “On the Dirtiness of Laundry and the Strength of Sisters” in which she writes of one of the most loving and capacious ideas about siblings: “Though I am a writer, {my brother} taught me a word when we were building the home that was mine for a while.  The word is sister, which is a verb in the construction industry, as in “to sister a beam.”  This means to set another plank alongside a beam and fasten the two together to create a stronger structure.  It is the most fundamental image of the kind of relationship Thoreau had with his sisters and I with my brother: we reinforce each other” (284).  This is a fascinating book, and the essays are mostly short, though often dense with meaning, so I would advise a reader to savor them instead of racing through it all.  Thus, my excuse for not finishing the challenge!

This has been such an excellent reading experience for me, and I am so grateful to Alison for putting it all together and keeping us going.  I’ve never had the chance to commit to reading these many books, so many of which I had been intending to read for way too long but never following through.  I hope we can return in the spring for another go at the challenge–from all of you I have found about even more books that I would not have known about,  and I feel that I really must add them to my next list, so thank you to everybody here.   All the best to you, and let’s keep reading!

1 comments on “Nadia’s 6th and 7th books”

  1. Nadia, I have heard about Consider the Fork, it’s nice to read about it! I am definitely adding it to my list.

    I will be starting an ”open season” reading time here tomorrow once the challenge is officially over. I think over the next several months instead of making a goal to read a certain number of books, I will just continue to post and hope others do as well– Hope you will join!!

    Then we will have a summer challenge, which is more intense. Last year we did 10 books in 10 weeks. I finished but it was really hard! We will see what other folks want to do as we move along.

    I am so glad you joined us and that you had a positive experience! The biggest surprise of all for me has been the writing I have gotten done, thanks to your book swap. I crossed 36,000 words this morning, ha!

    People really enjoyed the book swap, so I anticipate we will definitely be doing that again. Maybe we can do a spring swap or something 🙂

    Stay warm!


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