Reading Roundup #11
Here’s a look at some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of months. My reading tastes are widely eclectic but I mainly enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction, and the occasional gripping novel.
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman
I’ve always been fascinated by immigrant history, specifically that of the turn of the last century New York, and so when I learned there was a book that was a culinary history of five families who lived at America’s most famous tenement, I was majorly intrigued. If you’ve ever visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, you’ll know that the tenements (or apartments) that the immigrants lived in were small beyond words. And yet the families still cooked, and made more than just tea and crackers. 97 Orchard details the lives of five families, all from different times and nationalities, but not just their family backgrounds but also their food backgrounds-where they shopped, what they shopped for, what they ate. You always read about immigrant history, but what about their culinary history too? Ziegelman does a fascinating job of offering a unique look into a different viewpoint, one entirely revolving around food. I’m a history fanatic so I knew I would enjoy 97 Orchard but the incorporation of the food element really “put it over the top” for me. I highly recommend it for not only the avid history fan but also anyone interested in food history and patterns.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
After I started seeing trailers for the screen adaptation (starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander), I knew that I would enjoy the book. And truthfully, I did enjoy the book more than the film. It’s about Tom, a scarred World War I veteran from Australia who takes the job of a lighthouse keeper on a remote and desolate island. Before heading out, he meets Isabel, a much younger woman whose youthfulness and gaiety enchant him. They eventually marry with Isabel coming to join him on the island, even though many people are against it including Tom, who has his own reservations about bringing young and carefree Isabel to such a barren place. But she surprises him and takes to the isolated landscape that has in fact served as a healing remedy to the loss and devastation he saw as a soldier during the war. However, after suffering a series of miscarriages, when a baby mysteriously washes up on their shore, Isabel thinks her prayers have been answered, while Tom fears the opposite. Their lives will irrevocably change forever, as well as others’ around them. The Light Between Oceans is a gripping tale of the human spirit and how far some will go to keep what they have but also how much some will risk for another.
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
While there is a plethora of literature about the Holocaust, one rarely hears about the “other side,” the lives of ordinary German citizens during World War II who were not tied to the Nazis. The Baker’s Daughter tells the story of two women, Reba, a journalist in present-day Texas, and Elsie, a teenager in 1945 Germany. Through a story she’s trying to write concerning Christmas, Reba happens to meet the elderly Elsie, who runs a nearby bakery, and subsequently learns Elsie was from Germany and lived there during its darkest days. I’ll admit, I much preferred the 1945 story. It was dark and tragic as you can imagine in the waning days of World War II when the German people truly had nothing. Reba’s story in present-day was just a tad trite for my taste. But McCoy does an excellent job in offering readers a look at the civilian side in Germany and her writing is a reminder that not all were evil and many still risked their lives to help others. And of course, the descriptions of all of the German baked goods will leave you super hungry. I just wish I had had more time to search out a German bäckerei when I was there in September.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I’m semi- obsessed with Erik Larson, so when I heard he had a written a book concerning my favorite (American) city, Chicago, I decided to give it a go. The Devil in the White City is told through two stories of two men, both tied to the 1893 World’s Fair that was held in Chicago. One is an architect who was responsible for bringing the fair to Chicago. He had to wage quite the fight since most people outside of Chicago considered it to be a rough and tumble city that wasn’t up to the same snuff as a place like New York. The second is a notorious serial killer who is estimated to have murdered dozens of women around the time of the fair, when countless women came to the “big city” and were never heard from again (i.e. the perfect lair for a smooth talking psychopath). This is an era in American history I truly knew very little about, neither from the crime angle nor all the work that was literally involved in hosting a World’s Fair (I guess in a sense like an Olympics although probably even worse). What I love most about Larson’s books is that even though they’re non-fiction, they read like a novel, though the characters on the pages were in fact real people.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Okay, so this was my slightly guilty/very fluff worthy book of the summer. But after a couple of heavy reads, this romantic fiction work was sorely needed. Louisa lives in small-town England and after being let go from her job, she ends up being hired as a personal care aide for Will, a quadriplegic, even though she’s completely inexperienced. Louisa is a cheerful and fun person and being “paired” with Will, who has completely withdrawn from life ever since his accident and doesn’t want to live, is a daily struggle for her. However, over time, Louisa breaks through Will’s iron-clad exterior, and Will in turn comes to enjoy Louisa’s fun-loving nature. Two who are polar opposites end up connecting. It’s a silly read, one that’s highly predictable but quite enjoyable all the same.
I also read The Martian by Andy Weir but that was for a book club, and while I very much enjoyed the movie, the book featured way too much math for me (i.e. equations and all that “good stuff”) and I couldn’t help but hear Matt Damon’s voice in my head all the time the character of Mark was speaking. Personally, I’d recommend sticking with the film, although there are some differences.
What have you read recently?