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The African Americans

Dec 09, 2013


I have not yet seen the television series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, but after reading this companion book I'm very much looking forward to it. The book is a brief but unflinching look at 500 years of African American history, from the first people of African descent to inhabit what is now American soil, to African American experiences today. It examines the roots, reality and ultimate abolishment of slavery in the United States, as well as the far-reaching aftermath. There is a section on racist imagery in the 19th century that is both disturbing and illuminating (and, as the book points out, does not all originate from white people in the south). It is both a history of racial discrimination in America and a history of African American achievement (and it shows how linked these two things are).
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The Greening

Jul 03, 2013


This is one of those books that I like more in theory than in execution. It's like on those competitive cooking shows when the judges tell the aspiring chefs that they had a great idea for a dish, but they made it over-complicated and then put too much chili in it so it overpowered everything else.

In this case the great idea was a novel inspired by the writings of medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich. I studied Julian quite a bit in university and I know a lot about her, so I was excited for this book. Where it gets over-complicated is the plot. A female reporter chances upon an antique diary written by another woman who had chanced upon the writings of Dame Julian. It's too many levels of separation and, I thought, needlessly complicated.

And if I can continue with the metaphor just a little longer, the overpowering "hit of chili" was the Christian message. It was not subtle. At all. Julian of Norwich was a mystic who had hallucinatory visions during a fevered bout of severe illness and wrote about things such as seeing Jesus as her divine mother, all during a time when women were being burned at the stake as witches, often for things far less radical than what she was writing. She's fascinating for so many reasons. Yet every character in the book acts as though the only possible interpretation of her writing is that Jesus loves us and has a plan for us all and that Julian's writing is a factual account of that plan. One character even goes so far as to say Julian "writes like a reporter" (I actually laughed out loud at that one).

I love Julian of Norwich and her writings (which she called "Divine Shewings") but I did not love this inelegant handling of them. By the end of the book all I wanted to do was what I should have done in the first place: put on some music by Hildegard von Bingen and curl up with The Revelation of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings Made to Dame Julian of Norwich, the original text on which The Greening is based.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from Hay House for review purposes. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, nor was I otherwise compensated for my review. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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Women, Sex, Power, and Pleasure

Mar 27, 2013


I don't normally read a lot of self-help books. Well, unless you count celebrity memoirs and cookbooks as "self-help." No? Okay, then I don't read a lot of self-help. So I guess I was expecting something different, like fluffy affirmations to "be your authentic self" or "find your inner sparkly vampire goddess" or something. That last one might have been from Fifty Shades of Grey (which is NOT a self-help book, FYI). But I was surprised by how straight forward, intelligent, relatable and, well, helpful this book was. With chapters like "I'm Too Fat to Have Sex" and "Becoming Your Own Activist" I felt author Evelyn Resh was almost speaking to me personally. How did she know I felt that way? How did she know this was just what I needed to hear? I guess it's partly because she's a smart, feminist professional who knows what she's talking about, and partly because a LOT of women feel just this way. I almost hate to admit it, but I almost cried when I read some parts of this book, they were so familiar.

It's not an easy thing to talk honestly about our sexuality, particularly for women--like me--who are not twenty-five, childless and supremely confident in our sexual expression anymore. There are a lot of reasons why things change as we get older and our lives get more complicated, but that doesn't make it easier to discuss. So I definitely see the value of books that help broach those subjects. I'm just so glad to have found a book that actually discusses women's sexuality in an intelligent and helpful manner, rather than one that condescends, coddles or infantilizes the reader by talking about "the girls," "your flower" or, ugh, "your cookie."

Evelyn Resh's book is no-nonsense and sincere. Even if you can't personally relate to every thing she says (I'm not at menopause age myself, so the chapter on menopause was, for me, still just theoretical) at least you won't feel insulted by how she says it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from Hay House for review purposes. I was not obliged to write a favourable review. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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The Looneyspoons Collection

Feb 18, 2013


I think there are essentially two kinds of cookbooks: reference and browsing. The reference cookbooks are the ones in which the recipes themselves are front and centre, with practical, no-nonsense information accompanying--but never overshadowing--each one. Photos are optional and, if included, are always of the completed recipe itself (usually right next to the recipe).

Browsing cookbooks, on the other hand, are the kind you can read for pleasure, even if you're not getting ready to cook anything. You can leave them out on your coffee table for guest perusal. They have glossy pictures, sometimes of things completely unrelated to the recipe at hand (an elaborate table setting, a closeup of a cow, a fabulous ribbon on an mysterious present). They have information extraneous to the recipes, often told in quirky, funny ways. They may not be the easiest books to keep open on a crowded countertop while cooking, but who cares? These books are delightful and FULL of whimsy.

The Looneyspoons Collection is definitely in the latter category. It has everything. Gorgeous photos! Colourful cartoons! Candid shots of the authors at parties! Random food-related jokes! Nutrition facts sprinkled throughout! And recipes with amusing names like "Name That Tuna Salad" and "A Wok in the Pork." This book is a delight.

Apparently the Looneyspoons books were originally backed and published by the newest dragon on CBC's Dragons' Den, David Chilton. He even writes about them in his bio for the show. I love a Canadian success story (and if I watched more TV I would probably have known that the Podleski sisters have their own show on Canada's Food Network).

There are tonnes of interesting recipes in this collection and I can't wait to try some of them. I am a little worried that I will get distracted by all the other cute stuff in the books (I wasn't kidding about the jokes and cartoons!). My three-year-old daughter Magda, however, has laser precision when it comes to examining a new cookbook. This was her reaction:

Magda: Oh Mommy you got a new cookbook! Oooh, does it have food in it?
Me: Yes, I think so--
Magda (literally half a second later): Oh! I found some cookie recipes! Should we make them?

That kid can find a cookie recipe in a new cookbook so fast it should be her JOB.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free of charge from Hay House publishing as part of their Book Nook review program. I was asked to write an honest review, but not necessarily a favourable review, and was not otherwise compensated for my review. All of the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
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