Weekend reading

Chris Schluep on April 10, 2020

Weekend reading

There's a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction in this week's weekend reading. In fact, no two books are really alike. As we roll into our fifth (or is it sixth?) week of working from home, are the editors' tastes diverging? Not really. We've always had diverse tastes. And each book suits the person reading it. So, here's to diversity in a time when every day rolls into the next and you're tired of seeing your own couch. Personally, I thought I would never tire of seeing my couch.

Happy reading.

Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters by Dominique Crenn

I just started reading this memoir from acclaimed chef Dominique Crenn and, only a couple of chapters in, I’m already in love with her story. Growing up outside of Versailles, Crenn, the adopted daughter of a politician, never wanted to conform to the traditional roles of women at the time. She wanted to live the life she desired and dreamed of, the life of a chef and a restaurant owner. Crenn says in the beginning of her book that “…luck, as I see it, is that I never regarded any circumstance to be the end of the story. Living is moving. Nothing is gained by standing still. We are all works in progress.” Rebel Chef is the story of how Crenn put that credo into action, becoming the first female chef in the U.S. to be awarded two coveted Michelin stars in 2011 for her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn, which now holds a third and was ranked as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world in 2019. Crenn has made a name for herself as a trailblazer, innovator, and activist, and in the coming pages I’ll get to see how she got there. I can’t want to take the journey. —Seira Wilson

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I’m weathering the pandemic in Massachusetts and it just so happens that Edith Wharton’s country estate, The Mount, is right down the road. The grounds are impeccable, the house formidable, and it makes me wonder about her life and her novels, so I’m returning to one of my favorites, The Age of Innocence, set in New York City high society in the 1870s. Though she did not write this novel at her estate, it reflected the world of her childhood in Manhattan. I’m getting (happily) lost in the juicy drama of social hierarchies, family obligations, and star-crossed lovers from different sides of the tracks. It feels a bit like an indulgent relief from our world today, and for that I’m entirely grateful and inspired by the power of literature.—Al Woodworth

Calypso by David Sedaris

Chris did a post this week on “authors to take on a desert island” and David Sedaris and his hilarious Me Talk Pretty One Day was mentioned. If you want a surefire way to buoy your spirits, Sedaris is always a safe bet so I’m revisiting Calypso. Many of the essays are set at the “Sea Section”—Sedaris’s retreat on the Carolina coast. There, his family whiles away the holidays playing cutthroat board games, baking in the sun, and feeding tumors to snapping turtles (yes, you read that right). In others, he describes shopping shenanigans in Japan (you can thank him for the resurgence of the culotte, or not), his unhealthy Fitbit obsession, and a side vocation picking up trash near his Sussex home. All provide the sort of everyday fodder that is ripe for his beloved brand of witty repartee. Dark as it is droll, it’s still one of Sedaris’s funniest, most outrageous, most moving offerings yet. —Erin Kodicek

Fairest by Meredith Talusan

Talusan opens her memoir at her college reunion, where she’s hanging out with the gay men she used to hang out with 10 years before. The difference now—aside from being older and wiser—is that Talusan is a woman. A Filipino with albinism, she’s often misidentified as white—a misidentification that sometimes it’s easier to roll with, given all the benefits associated with whiteness in the United States, than it is to correct. Meredith Talusan’s wonderfully powerful Fairest focuses often on seeing and on not-seeing people’s truths. And it is making me wonder if one thing we all might get out of these long weeks of social distancing and enforced solitude during the coronavirus pandemic is a much-needed breather from the rest of the world’s assumptions and misidentifications. I hope we exit these challenging times not just stronger, but more loving of our real selves than before. —Adrian Liang


Prophetic City: Houston on the Cusp of a Changing America by Stephen L. Klineberg

Back when I was living in Brooklyn, which was before that borough became really cool, I used to tell people from Manhattan about it. One of the points I would make was how big and varied a place it is. "If Brooklyn was its own city," I would say, "it would be the fourth largest. Larger than Houston." I tell this story not to laud Brooklyn (the world is full of Brooklyn lauders now), but to show how I first became interested in Houston. Back in the day, whenever I compared Brooklyn to Houston, I would have a private side conversation with myself that basically went Houston? Hmm. Who knew? Eventually I started reading about our fourth largest city. Houston is what Brooklyn used to be: a rapidly shifting melting pot, a beacon of hope for immigrants and the middle class. It is also a place of deep contrasts and contradictions. And it is Texan, which Brooklyn certainly is not. It's a fascinating place, and I look forward to reading more about it in Prophetic City, which publishes in June. —Chris Schluep

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

If there’s one thing you can always depend on, it’s that I will read the latest Elin Hilderbrand book, and I’m not going to let you down now. Hilderbrand’s upcoming 28 Summers (June 16) is likely everything I need right now and more. In the summer of 1993, Mallory Blessing inherits a Nantucket cottage from her aunt and agrees to host her brother’s bachelor weekend in the house. She meets his friend, Jake McCloud, and for the next 28 summers they have a one-weekend-a-year affair. But in the summer of 2020, Mallory is dying and her son receives her deathbed wish to call a mystery number. On the other end is Jake. Deathbed wishes and star-crossed lovers aside, Hilderbrand and Nantucket always make me happy; I feel lucky to escape to the quarantine-free world of Hilderbrand’s summer 2020. —Sarah Gelman

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

One of my literary happy places is Buckshaw, a decrepit old mansion in a picturesque English village, circa 1950. It's the setting for the first book in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which introduces 11 year old Flavia, budding chemist and pint-sized Sherlock-in-training. Flavia lives in Buckshaw with her widowed father and her two, beastly older sisters (after a while you start to pick up the lingo), where she spends every moment she can conducting scientific experiments in her late Uncle Tarquin's attic laboratory. The other residents at Buckshaw include a grumpy housekeeper and Flavia's father's old wartime batman, Dogger, who acts as chauffeur and keeps an eye on Flavia, simultaneously keeping her out of trouble while encouraging her fledgling attempts to use her knowledge of chemistry to solve a murder that's taken place in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw. Flavia is an absolute riot, a girl before her time, so if you need me, Buckshaw is where I'll be this weekend. —Vannessa Cronin

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