Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley

Relish

by Lucy Knisley

“Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions. A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.”(via Goodreads)

relish

Is it possible for me to review Relish without mentioning my own food-related memories? I have good ones (helping Mom make paella in her Spanish paella pan that’s older than I am) and bad ones (my brother sneaking such a liberal helping of wasabi onto my salmon-and-bagel sandwich as a kid that I still can’t stand the taste of it with sushi). Really, though, I just have a ton of food memories in general, because I think about food A Lot. Okay, basically all the time. It’s one of my great joys in life besides reading and sleeping, and if I could somehow tuck Relish under my pillow and absorb Lucy’s charming food-related memories through magical sleep osmosis, it would be my Bible.

Relish is episodic in nature, illustrating vignettes from the author’s life–her family’s Easter gatherings, her time working in a cheese shop, a trip to France and the croissants scarfed there–and some readers may find the fare a little light, but I found it perfectly tasty. (Ugh, okay. I’ll stop. I promise.) I feel like her illustration game is only getting better with time; the faces are simple but expressive, the colors are gorgeous. My food-loving roots aren’t as illustrious as hers (no professional chefs in my family, just a great cook of a mother who came from a family where they carved up the Thanksgiving turkey with a cadaver knife), but this is a case of the specific becoming universal. Anybody who’s fond of cooking and/or eating–and if you’re not, why did you pick this up?–will connect with the familiarity of the warm feelings that come off the page.

Well, that’s not wholly true. The book might alienate, say, folks who are against foie gras and the process of its creation, something I’m not personally comfortable with myself. It’s not the kind of book that really looks critically at eating habits and the impact that they have, globally or environmentally, and the author owns her love of goose liver. I don’t believe it’s particularly harmful in that way either, though, so that’s not the hill I’m gonna die on. That’s just not the book it is.

Overall, Relish is sweet and funny and pretty, and includes some recipes if you’re willing to give butterflied leg of lamb a go. I’ve only read the galley version of it, so I’m looking forward to having a bright, shiny copy of the real thing in my hands soon enough. You can read the first chapter here, and Relish will be out on April 2–a week and a half is plenty of time to go preorder it or look at her tour schedule, don’t you think? (I’m serious about that last one. Guys, she got special clothes made to match her book cover for the tour. Are you kidding me? I have to see that dress in person. Or the tunic, I’m not picky. GET IT? PICKY? I’ll go now.)

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DAMN GIRL THAT STYLE IS FAT

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I know I’ve mentioned Aimee Fleck around here before, but I don’t think I mentioned a recent zine of hers, DAMN GIRL THAT STYLE IS FAT. As you might have grasped from the title, it’s a short illustrated guide to dressing up for fat women, and is completely great. I’m straight-sized and I loved it–the illustrations are gorgeous and I think a lot of the advice is solid for plus-sized and straight-sized people.

The zine, which you can buy on Gumroad, is only available digitally, but here’s the great part: she’s working on a book-sized version that will be in print. It will be available to pre-order soon, and I’m already looking forward to my copy. I may even buy two and do a giveaway, so keep your eyes peeled!

Lucy Knisley’s Relish Tour Dates Announced!

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image by Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley just announced the tour dates for her newest book, Relish, which will be released at the beginning of April! There are a bunch of San Francisco dates and I am so there, you guys. Like food? Like comics? Go go go! (I actually read a galley of it several months ago, so watch for a review soon. Looking forward to owning a print copy of it like nobody’s business!)

Hour 4 Update

Though Mia and I didn’t get a picture of the delicious cinnamon toast with cream cheese we noshed on earlier, here is our chocolate chai brewing in her beautiful and amazing dragon teapot for the the Hour 3 snack mini-challenge over at Uniflame Creates.

The Hour 4 mini-challenege at A Literary Odyssey asked us what classic book should all high school kids read? Click on over and sift through over a hundred comments to find our answers. (Spoiler: Mia picked A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I picked Beloved by Toni Morrison… as well as A Handmaid’s Tale.)

In reading news, I am working on Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, one of the Dresden Files book, and Mia is reading Local Babies, Global Science, which is a nonfiction book about gender and IVF in Egypt. We haven’t done too much reading yet, but it is still early!

Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith

by Colin Dickey

Afterlives of the Saints is a woven gathering of groundbreaking essays that move through Renaissance anatomy and the Sistine Chapel, Borges’ “Library of Babel,” the history of spontaneous human combustion, the dangers of masturbation, the pleasures of castration, “and so forth” — each essay focusing on the story of a particular (and particularly strange) saint.” (via Amazon)

Good Things: As the above summary says, this book is a collection of essays, each about a particular saint–but this book departs from traditional hagiography (biographical writings about saints) in that, while each essay includes each saint’s story, the true focus is generally the cultural impact or relevance the particular saint gained post-canonization. This is an interesting direction to take, and gives the author freedom to cover a lot of ground, which he does: discussion of Saint Paula leads to Chaucer’s depictions of women; discussion of Saint Lawrence leads to the often-confusing iconography of saints in general (Lawrence was burnt alive over a gridiron, and so is depicted carrying one, which has alarmingly led to his becoming the patron saint of barbecues); discussion of Saint Bartholomew, flayed alive, leads to the evolution of the study of anatomy. Despite being a distinctly unreligious person myself, I have a lot of interest in the way that different religions and pieces of religions shape world cultures and how we live, and Afterlives of the Saints is right up my alley.

There’s a decent amount of the juicy details, too–I like to imagine that, like me, at least a decent number of people who seek out stories of saints are interested in the weird and gory details of their martyrdom, like Saint Lucy and her gouged-out eyes or Saint Agatha and her cut-off breasts. The book doesn’t shy away from these, and often helpfully provides images of paintings discussed in the text, so we get to see Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows in all his weirdly sexy glory. It also doesn’t shy away from the strange and myriad connections saints have to the rest of history. Pornography, castration, masturbation, racism, and all sorts of other complex subjects come up, and I appreciated the frank (and non-moralizing) treatment of all of the above.

Plus, I just plain like collections of essays. The variety of topics keeps things interesting, while the overarching theme mostly brings it all back around in the end. I thought it would be something that I would pick up and put down frequently over the course of a month, an essay here and an essay there, but I actually ended up reading it almost straight through over the course of two or three days. Saints are fascinating! I would, however, caution against reading it in the wee hours just before going to sleep, however. Reading about Bartholomew being skinned is one thing, but dreaming about it is entirely another.

Bad Things: Unfortunately, I felt like the essays didn’t really hit their stride until Part Two. The book is divided into five Parts, with Part One covering saints that have written things, Parts Two and Three covering saints that inspired art and literature, Part Four covering “the wide range of beliefs [certain saints] encompassed,” and Part Five covering some non-saints, those who were not formally canonized but who are of interest despite (and partially because of) their non-sainthood. While I found Part One interesting, particularly as a former student of Literature, I felt like the essays in this section tended to wander a bit more, and didn’t feel as tightly written as the later sections. I still enjoyed them, but didn’t feel that they would draw a standard reader into the book as easily. When the book is at its strongest, it is fun interesting, fun, and informative, but occasionally the essays get either a bit didactic or a bit muddled, which both serve to draw one out of the text.  I also occasionally disagreed with the conclusions the author came to about this or that saint, but that’s not so much a “bad thing” as “humans having differing opinions,” so I won’t count that against him.

Overall:  In the prologue, Dickey writes, “I, too, am uninterested in writing that downplays the humanity of the saint in favor of God’s divinity. For me, saints exist not as a medium for God but as a lens for humanity.” The essays that come after serve this vision well–even when the essays stray from the original topic, they always get to the heart of the universal nature of the saints’ stories, whether some of them were real people who actually existed or whether they are simply symbols of a certain place and time. We see what the saints meant and continue to mean to people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and how they interest and inspire and connect us through all sorts of media. It connects pornography, spontaneous human combustion, WWII, and Margery Kemp’s endless torrent of tears, and through that, this book makes me see the web of the world.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. Afterlives of the Saints is available now.

Themed Reading Challenges


Back to the Classics Challenge 2012

Read one classic from each category

  • Any 19th Century Classic – Middlemarch or North and South
  • Any 20th Century Classic – Cat’s Eye or Cat’s Cradle
  • Reread a classic of your choice – The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Invisible Cities, 100 Years of Solitude
  • A Classic Play – Sam Beckett?
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction – Frankenstein?
  • Classic Romance – North and South
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language   – Invisible Cities, 100 Years of Solitude,
  • Classic Award Winner  – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Herman Hesse, William Faulker, Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime


The Dewey Decimal Challenge

This is a basic non-fiction challenge and I’ll sign up for the most basic level, which is reading one to five non-fiction books.

1) In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent


Reading My Life 2012 Challenge (okay, that’s not what she calls it, but whatever!)

I love the idea for this challenge! Pick one book that was published each year since the year of your birth. I’m going to go (everybody’s shocked) for the lowest level, 3 years. That means I’ll read one book each from 1986, 1987, and 1988, the first three years of my life.

1986 – Crap, a lot of books I *love* are from this year, like Speaker for the Dead and Howl’s Moving Castle. Oh, here we go. My dad got me Maus by Art Spiegelman for Christmas and the first one just so happens to have been published in 1986. Perfect!
1987 – Another great year for books – Watchmen and Beloved and Arrows for the Queen were published in 1987. Let’s see, what should I read? I could do Norweigan Wood by Murakami or Bluebeard by Vonnegut or Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks or The Forge of God by Greg Bear or Equal Rites or Mort by Terry Pratchett or Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe. This year will be harder to pick as I don’t own any of them. We’ll see what happens!
1988 – Sweet deal! Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood was published in ’88 and I own it! There are other possibilities, though – The Player of Games by Banks, a couple of Prachetts (Sourcery and Wyrd Sisters), or Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. also omg but Matilda was published in ’88 and you don’t even know how much I loved that book!

Time’s 100 Best Nonfiction

Meme ganked from Mental Foodie, but I’ve seen variations of it elsewhere:

Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there’s a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME … magazine

Green Text – Have read
Purple Text – Already on TBR list
Orange Text – Did Not Finish

Autobiography / Memoir

Biography

Business

Culture

Essays

Food Writing

Health

History

Ideas

Nonfiction Novels

Politics

Science

Self-Help / Instructional

Social History

Sports

War

Honestly, that’s about what I expected – a number of to-reads but very few actually read. I only counted the books that were honestly on my TBR list before doing the meme (in more of a way than “hey, I’ve heard of that and would read it if somebody handed it to me”, which would include at least ten more of these), but you can bet my list is longer now!
Absolute highlight from reading through their list? How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher: “When a cookbook has a chapter called “How to Make a Pigeon Cry,” you know it’s going to be about more than recipes.” I’m also particularly interested in And the Band Played On, which is about the 80s AIDS epidemic; Carry Me Home, about the Civil Rights Movement; Godel, Escher, Bach; The Fatal Shore, about Australia’s tumultuous beginnings (in relation to Europeans, that is). The Best and the Brightest, a Vietnam expose from 1972; and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, I’m still not sure what it’s about, also sound interesting (oh, what a loaded word).
I also read, I am realizing, academic articles in college based (?) on Anderson’s ideas from Imagined Communities, which posits that our modern nation-states are, well, imagined communities. I may actually have read Anderson himself, though I can’t remember. I would definitely read the whole book if I came across it in a used book store. Same goes for Orientalism by Edward Said – seems to be a very important book that influenced the people/thinkers who have influenced me.
I’m getting too babbly here, but The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer reminded me of author Sarah’s Monette’s extensive Nazi readings and her very intelligent reviews/reactions/thoughts on her livejournal. I went back and read them all (including the non-Nazi books she reads*) because she is just so smart and great and I may have a secret wee crush on her as I do lots of smart people. Anyway, the point is that she says she likes Shirer in one of her posts, which makes me think I should read this.
This list also made me think about my favorite nonfiction. I can’t make a definitive list w/o missing something, so I’ll just mention a couple: A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky and The Power of Babel by John McWhorter (no relation to the McWhorter above, far as I can tell).
*For her Unread Book Challenge, which is reading the books she owns but hasn’t read. Must do this. Mustmustmust.