I started this blog in order to review two new-release books provided to me by a friend who had connections with a publisher. My reviews were positive overall, but not purely laudatory or harmlessly unopinionated, which may be why I haven’t been asked to review another book on my blog until now, a year and a half later.
My book club (which is a wonderful thing; you should join one for the fellowship and to be forced to read outside your literary comfort zone) is currently reading Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table, with Recipes by Shauna Niequist (Zondervan, 2013). This book can best be described as a collection of short pieces of “life writing” (as they’re calling it these days), most of which are followed by a recipe. One book club member hooked us up with free copies from the publisher with the understanding that we would each review the book (either on Amazon or on a personal blog) and cook a recipe from it. I haven’t picked out a recipe yet; they nearly all look delightful, and only a few seem to be outside my cooking skill capacity. But I can go ahead and tell you what I think of the book and just add a brief appendix later about the food.
Since I mentioned cooking skill capacity, I’ll begin by identifying one of the main messages of this book: You can and should cook, even if you don’t think you can. As Niequist puts it, “start where you are” (40). Generally, Niequist does a good job of conveying the persona of somebody who’s right there with you, still learning and expanding her repertoire. Occasionally, however, this persona will show cracks, as in the chapter in which she whips up a “last-minute lunch party” that includes a perfectly-paired salad, appetizer, and dessert (213-217). She’s the kind of person who just happens to have feta cheese and kalamata olives in her refrigerator on a normal day, but that probably has less to do with her cooking expertise than with the part of the country she’s from, just outside Chicago. We find out toward the end of the book that she’s in a yacht club, and it isn’t surprising. I also thought Niequist talked an awful lot about alcohol consumption for a pastor’s daughter, but again, that’s a cultural thing; I grew up in rural Pennsylvania’s mini-Bible belt, not outside a major American city.
Overall, however, I found Niequist’s stories remarkably relatable, because she writes about things nearly all American women can understand, regardless of regional or socioeconomic differences. I particularly identified with the chapters on the intersections between appetite, femininity, and body image (there are several of these) and on the shame we experience when we feel our homes aren’t presentable (105-111); other women may find her struggles with infertility and miscarriage more compelling emotionally. (The stories of these struggles comprise the closest thing this book has to a continuous narrative.) The book’s thesis is that cooking, eating, and especially sharing food are ways by which we connect with and show love to others, and God shows love to us. Niequist’s Christian faith is made explicit at several points and subtly informs the whole book, but readers of other faiths or no particular faith won’t feel alienated–thought they might be drawn by Niequist’s winsome testimony to read more books by Christians.
Niequist has a few annoying writing habits, most of which can probably be attributed to an effort to sound lyrical. She overuses the word lovely, but that’s not such a bad word to overuse. Instead of using a serial comma, she tends to pile up ands. She also will occasionally take a simple declaration and turn it into a Pronouncement by adding an introductory clause such as “So this is what I’m going to do” (230) or “This is what I knew” (69) and then a colon. I probably shouldn’t even tell you about these quirks because now you’ll be looking for them instead of enjoying Niequist’s literate yet friendly prose style. But I work at a writing center, and I can’t stop myself.
I read this book in five days, but I could have finished it much faster. A couple times I wanted to cry, and many times I wanted to cook, but alas, I didn’t have quinoa or goat cheese just sitting around my kitchen. Trying out the recipes comes next. Assuming the food is good (or that if it’s bad, the fault is all mine), I’m pleased to recommend Bread and Wine to you and your book club.
Next post: LeakyCon Portland 2013–the recap!