Review: Relish

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Relish
by Lucy Knisley

★★★★☆

2013 • 192 pages • First Second

Despite my love of cooking, I don’t review cookbooks for this blog. There are a lot of reasons for that. Firstly, I don’t actually read that many of them, because the Internet is my main resource for recipes. Secondly, I don’t actually read them the way I consume media. I rifle through them, searching for something I like, and when I finally do alight on a likely candidate, my improvisation is brutal because of my lactose intolerance, laziness, and cheapness. When I look for a recipe for myself, it’s with the specific intent of making it my own.

But when I read food histories or food-centered memoirs, it’s a different story. I’m seized by the urge to recreate a historical dish, to better access the past through my sense of taste, or by the need to go find the pizzeria this book recommends and see if it’s really worth all the praise. Relish’s recipes and recommendations proved all the more tempting for author Lucy Knisley’s clear, clean, and bright artwork. I have bookmarked places to go eat in Chicago because of this book, and I have never been to Chicago nor plan to visit Chicago. I have an ear of corn in my fridge from the farmer’s market, ready for me to eat raw, per Knisley’s fond memories of doing so. I even copied her recipe for sautéed mushrooms down to the letter, but my stomach was being peculiarly tender and refused to digest it.

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At The Movies: Frank (2014)

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Frank

★★★★½

2014 • 95 minutes • Magnolia

I couldn’t stop crying.

The end credits of Frank were rolling in the Sunshine Cinema, my very first New York City movie theater (complete with eye gougingly high ticket prices), and I couldn’t stop crying. Later, coughing up tears onto Captain Cinema’s Garfield shirt waiting for the F train, I finally articulated: “It just hit me directly in my fears. It’s about a man who loves something so much but he can’t be a part of it without destroying it.” What if, I didn’t say, it’s prophetic? The next morning, mercifully, I had the kind of déjà vu I often mistake for prophecy or cosmic assurance observing my new fuchsia bookshelf, but it was a rough night of the soul.

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Review: Champagne Supernovas

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Champagne Supernovas
by Maureen Callahan

★★★★☆

2014 • 288 pages • Touchstone

Defining the nineties as a contained cultural unit is something that has long frustrated me. For me, specifically, it’s a very unique decade. I encountered every decade prior as an already shaped narrative and the aughts marked the first time I was conscious of the larger pop culture we’re all swimming in. But the nineties? I was a very sheltered small child at the time. That’s not my fault, obviously, but it has thwarted my attempts to knit a coherent narrative out of the disparate cultural artifacts of the nineties. There’s something willfully futile about such an exercise—how can you truly boil down ten years to a pat assessment?—but I need somewhere to start.

Champagne Supernovas posits that that somewhere to start is, in fact, fashion. The cover copy argues that the fifties were defined by rock and roll, the sixties by the Beat poets, and the eighties by punk rock and modern art. But the maximalism of the eighties, embodied by the first true supermodels, made no room for the recession’s fascination with emotional and physical trauma that eventually blossomed into what author and journalist Maureen Callahan characterizes as wound culture: Continue reading

Review: How I Live Now

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How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff

★★★★½

2004 • 194 pages • Penguin Books

During my sophomore year of high school, we were given a choice between two novels to read in English class. The first was Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, which had worked its way from newly published book to speculative fiction suitable for expanding the minds of our young folk in only a few years. Examining the book, I realized that it featured a love story between two blood cousins. Obscene!, I raged to myself. Inappropriate!, I raged to myself. Despite having read American Gods at the tender age of twelve, I had virtuously tricked my mother into purchasing that novel for me by not saying a word when I presented it at the counter; a school passing that filth out? My recently developed and oversensitive sense of morality was offended to the core. (I saw myself as an authority, set apart from other kids. Needless to say, I was an insufferable giant child.)

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At The Movies: Lucy (2014)

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Lucy

★★½☆☆

2014 • 89 minutes • Universal Pictures

For me, there is such a thing as an impenetrable director. Simply put, I find some directors utterly bulletproof. I can’t find any openings to begin engaging with their work, be it positively, negatively, or complexly. (This is similar to the kind of close-endedness in a text that discourages fandom, but you can still talk about those films. See Cabin in the Woods, a thesis statement cunningly disguised as a film.) Their work is just too weirdly pure—their strange conception is perfectly executed, and I can’t find fault in that.

(There could also be such things as impenetrable writers and musicians, but I’ve never met such an author and music criticism is largely beyond me.)

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Review: The Penelopiad

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The Penelopiad
by Margaret Atwood

★★★☆☆

2005 • 224 pages • Canongate

Margaret Atwood, especially in her later years, has a very specific and peculiar gift as a writer. Reading her prose, you hear not only the voice of a fully developed character, but Atwood’s as well. I’m tempted to say that her female protagonists have some similarities, but I haven’t read enough of her bibliography to feel comfortable saying that. All I can say is that Penelope and Offred are two different women related by a common mother. Atwood’s voice never intrudes, but you would never confuse her books for anyone else’s.

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Review: The Jewel

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The Jewel
by Amy Ewing

★★★★☆

2014 • 368 pages • Harper Teen

I enjoy a good referential pitch as much as anyone else. I myself constantly convince people to watch Plunkett and Macleane by describing it as “A Knight’s Tale Gothy, romantic older sister,” only for them to rage about how hard it is to get ahold of. (It is one hundred percent worth it.) But seeing The Jewel marketed as The Selection meets A Handmaid’s Tale gave me pause. It’s not the latter title, as everybody should read A Handmaid’s Tale, especially teenage girls, but the former. It just ties in so neatly to the young adult juggernaut narrative, from Harry Potter to Twilight to The Hunger Games to Divergent to the current interregnum. The Selection itself was marketed as a riff on The Hunger Games. Obviously, there’s very good marketing sense to invite comparisons to The Hunger Games, but I have mixed feelings about the young adult juggernaut narrative.

But in this case, I’m fine with it, because if it gets more teens reading The Jewel, the better.

The Jewel’s premise is, as promised, along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale. In the Lone City, the royalty is so inbred that they cannot produce live births. Fortunately for them, a rare genetic mutation found, for some reason, in the lower classes gives girls the ability to do limited and hardwon magic—magic useful for fixing royal fetuses, once implanted. The surrogate system, where girls are taken from their families for training after they manifest their powers, trades luxury for freedom and bodily autonomy. Violet Lasting is Lot #197 for the upcoming auction. Already ambivalent about her role, her purchase by the cold and mercurial Duchess of the Lakes whisks her into a world of privilege, servitude, deceit, and danger. As she comes face to face with the fact that she will be impregnated against her will, she discovers a way out—a way out that will compromise her budding but secret relationship with a male companion. Continue reading