The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

While you’re waiting…

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not the only person searching for the answer to the question “ what happened?” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as her recently published memoir was our most requested book in recent weeks. It looks like WPL customers also want that fly-on-the-wall feeling as she leads the reader through what must be one of the most disappointing moments of her political life. The question is what would be a good book to read while you are waiting to read Hillary’s book, What Happened, or to read after you have finished it – in that post-reading glow you have when a book is finished and you want to continue your reading journey on that theme. Our shelves are bursting with books that can supplement that interest.

You will find other books in our catalogue written about Hillary Clinton and you could dip your toes right back into her own writing with her 2014 book Hard Choices where she provides readers with her perspective on her role as the Secretary of State in the years 2009 to 2013. She wrote this book cautiously, knowing that a presidential run might be in her future, without giving away too many secrets although she is frank about her discouraging loss to Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary recently said that her defeat in the 2016 election would have felt entirely different if it had been to any other Republican candidate and it could be interesting to compare her reactions in these two memoirs.

Maybe you could just take a break from the U.S. election (it’s probably a good idea when you can) and dig into the lives of other remarkable women through their biographical writing. Although Hillary Clinton was born in 1947 and Joni Mitchell in 1943 they have much in common – both have had long careers in the spotlight and faced criticism for making unpopular decisions. In her own words is actually a combination of interviews, photographs and reproductions of Joni’s paintings and could possibly inspire you to take a trip to browse our CD shelves as well. A change of pace and a chance to listen to some fantastic music.

How about a recent memoir by Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif?  It’s still a memoir about a powerful woman but it is the transformational story of one from a modest family who became frustrated by the constrictions of having to be chauffeured around despite having a car in the garage and a license she had obtained while working in the U.S.  In her book, Daring to drive : a Saudi woman’s awakening, she shares her experiences of growing up in a culture where a guardian’s permission was required for virtually all decisions she made in her life and how this helped to transform her into the face of the Women2Drive movement. In September of this year that longstanding ban was overturned and Manal turned to Twitter to say that she is working on her next campaign which is to end guardianship laws with a hashtag #IamMyOwnGuardian.

It’s always a good idea to turn to books from home when you are in the mood for a good read. There really is nothing more exciting than when an author references a street name that you are familiar with or you read that they are eating in a restaurant or visiting a hotel that you have been to. Reading Vij Vikram’s 2017 memoir, Vij, is like worldwide travel and cooking inspiration in book form.  lara Hughes is so relatable and can always bring people to their feet whether you are cheering for her on your TV screen, listening to her on the CBC, or reading her 2015 story about her struggle with depression. You could also learn more about our own Canadian politicians with Elizabeth May’s Who we are: reflections on my life and Canada or Tom Mulcair’s Strength of conviction.  It might be a good time for us to reflect on the future of our own country now that we have read, or are going to read, the thoughts of Hillary Clinton.  Using the autobiographical writing of any person can be a fantastic opportunity to sort through your own life – consider where you are going and think about where you have been.  You might have your own ‘what happened’ moment, with or without the question mark.

-Penny M.

The great Jeffrey Tambor

When I’m working here at the library and someone asks me how I am feeling I almost always answer “great” or “fantastic” because really, it is always a fabulous day when you work in a public library. Still, once in a while, I think about my eventual retirement and those thoughts turn to working in a bookstore. Doesn’t that just sound perfect?  So for research purposes I keep tabs on a few bookstores through their newsletters and social media and was so excited to learn that the actor Jeffrey Tambor is part owner of a wonderful shop in Los Angeles. It’s called Skylight and they have the coziest little spot there with a neighbourhood vibe that comes across in their website and through their promotional material.

Another favourite shop of mine is owned by author Louise Erdrich (the most recent book you will find of hers on our shelves is the fifth book in her series for children called Makoons but if you missed her 2016 novel for adults, LaRose, you should go back and enjoy it right now) and it’s a treat of a bookshop in Minneapolis. Actually, it’s not just a store that sells books. Birchbark Books sells “good books, native arts and jewelry” and is also a community hub. It’s another vibrant website that is worth visiting regularly for their great book vibe and cheerful photographs of the dogs that are connected with staff and visitors to the store.

Several other authors have connections to bookstores and this isn’t surprising at all.  Judy Blume has a splendid community hub in Key West that hosts great author readings that you dream about attending in flip flops while carrying a suitable iced drink (www.booksandbookskw.com) and the ever delightful Ann Patchett has a crew of amazing booksellers in Nashville at Parnassus Books where you know you would spend hours making friends with books, booksellers and the furry creatures who visit there. I have a special place in my heart for a store in Plainville, Mass. Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney opened his store, called An Unlikely Story, in a town of less than 9,000 by turning an old building into a bookstore, café, gift shop and a large meeting space that is used for yoga classes, community events and some of the best author readings I have ever seen.  It’s almost painful to get their newsletter as you see how many authors make the trip to Jeff Kinney’s store to read – they must all love this guy or just be a part of that wonderful literary feeling they have there. Now that is a reason to take a road trip!

And, speaking of great author visits, Jeffrey Tambor was a guest at his own bookstore when he launched his memoir Are you anybody? in May of this year. That would have been a wonderful, welcoming crowd even though at this point in his career, I think he and his family of young children are living in New York City. Tambor began his career on Broadway but has had small roles in many of the iconic TV shows of the late 70s and early 80s like “Taxi” and “Starsky & Hutch”.  Do you remember him from “The Ropers”?  I absolutely do.  He is still stopped on the street for that part even though most recently he is playing George Sr. & Oscar Bluth in “Arrested Development” and was also the incredible Maura Pfefferman in “Transparent”.  There is no way anyone will forget that part. People will stop him on the street to talk about that show for decades. Just imagine having such an incredible career. Well, you don’t have to imagine this because you can read about it in this outstanding book.

This is a memoir I would have missed if I hadn’t received an e-mail about it from Skylight books and I am so thrilled to have read it. Jeffrey Tambor has been a lifelong presence on the big and small screen (you should have a look at his CV on imdb.com – you have to keep scrolling and scrolling through it) and so many of the parts he has played have stayed with me. His face and his voice stand out in each production he has done and reading his memories and how grateful he is for each opportunity was quite a treat. He’s an actor, not a writer, so the pacing of the book floats around a bit but you get a real sense of his personality far more than you would if he had used a ghost writer or if this were a celebrity memoir which had been ‘told to’ someone else and had all of the fun massaged out of it. I think this might be a book I’ll choose to buy. I just can’t decide which of my favourite bookstores to order it from.

–Penny M.

 

Mockingbird Songs

I was introduced to Harper Lee by my mother. She was in the habit of handing me books when I was bored and apples when I was hungry. I was the last of five kids and she had parenting down to a science by the time I arrived. She knew exactly what to do when one of us was underfoot – distract us with a book or give us something to eat. She had loved reading To Kill a Mockingbird and thought it was a good way to get me out of the kitchen, probably away from the cookie jar, for a few hours and she was right. Her book suggestions were always good even though I was usually disappointed by her ‘eat an apple’ idea.

Looking back on my first reading of To Kill a Mockingbird now I wonder if I processed everything that was going on in the book when I first read it. I think that I focused more on the adventures of the kids, wished for a tree house, and wondered what it might be like to have someone like Calpurnia in my life. It was a surprise to find out that there weren’t more books by the same author when I went to look on our local library shelves but it wasn’t until my university years that I thought more about the author’s life.

Following the 1960 publication of her novel and the 1962 film based on it she gave several interviews and was photographed for LIFE magazine and several other publications. In many of these interviews Harper Lee suggested that she was writing another novel (which we can now read as Go Set a Watchman, published in 2015) but as she found it increasingly hard to complete this new work the requests for further interviews were declined and she became known as the ‘reclusive’ author.

The pressure to produce a follow up novel is one theory about why she stayed out of the spotlight but it’s hard to say what really was going on in Harper Lee’s mind because she chose to keep her cards close to her chest where personal details were concerned. The success of To Kill a Mockingbird allowed her the means to do exactly as she wished. Just think about it, a New York Times article published after her death said that over 40 million copies of the book had been sold and she lived frugally throughout her life with one small home she shared with her sister Alice in Monroeville and the same small Manhattan apartment she rented first in 1949 and kept until her death in 2016. It’s clear from her writing that she loved her small town and the people who lived there so why would she ever choose to leave it unless absolutely necessary.

Untitled-1When I read that Wayne Flynt, a history professor from Auburn University, was going to publish letters from his years of friendship with the author I had my name on that holds list as soon as I could. I was checking my library account daily when I knew that the book, Mockingbird Songs : my friendship with Harper Lee, would arrive and I couldn’t wait to get the book home.

Wayne Flynt is well known for his previous books about Southern history, religion and politics and was one of the early editors of the online Encyclopedia of Alabama where you can find a wonderful entry about Harper Lee, members of her family, the area where she grew up and the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. You can check it out online.

Flynt and Nelle (as she signed her letters to him) talked about his work and the early days of the Encyclopedia of Alabama in their letters because they shared so much of their lives through their correspondence. He and his wife became friends with Harper Lee’s sister Louise first and then got to know the author better when Flynt was asked to introduce the author’s achievements at an award’s ceremony. In those written conversations a friendship grows and from 1983 to her death. She and Flynt send news about their health, the things that they are reading, how they feel about politics and world events, and tidbits about family. One of Flynt’s grandchildren is named Harper and Lee is delighted to hear about this little girl’s life in each letter.

Flynt and his family visit with Nelle many times throughout their friendship, in Monroeville and in New York, and each time their relationship deepens. In every chapter of the book he prefaces the letters with some information about how they have been connecting, sometimes through formal events and at other times in her home or at restaurants in town. Their correspondence is lengthy and she is enthusiastic about his publishing efforts but always very humble about the legacy of her own. Although she is constantly aware of her advancing age, and discusses visits to the doctor for health concerns relating to her eyes, her letters are consistently upbeat and filled with paragraphs about what she is reading and looking forward to doing next. If Harper Lee were ever a isolated person it does not come across in these letters, she is busy and happy, she just didn’t choose to share her life with the press.

In 2006 Flynt was asked to write a tribute to his friend for an event in Birmingham to celebrate her lifetime of work on behalf of racial reconciliation. He accepted the assignment and read a speech he had written that he called “Atticus’s Vision of Ourselves” that so captivated Nelle she asked him to read it at her eventual memorial service. His eulogy is included in his book just before the author’s acknowledgements and we can read it with the reassurance that it has Harper Lee’s absolute approval.

Now, it’s the late spring of 2017 and we know that Harper Lee died in Monroeville at age 89 in February of 2016 and she had her wish granted with Wayne Flynt’s reading of that tribute at her funeral. As articles about her life and the importance of her writing poured into newspapers, magazines and online worldwide following her death, I spent some time thinking about Scout, Jem and Atticus. If an author is going to leave us with stories of just one family then I think Harper Lee made the right decision in writing about this one. Maybe we can set aside all of the stories of the ‘reclusive author’ and spend some time instead reading Wayne Flynt’s Mockingbird Songs: my friendship with Harper Lee. You just might find yourself buying a nice pen and sending a letter to someone you care about.

— Penny M.

Voracious!

Food and storytelling go hand in hand. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar munching along to Winnie-the-Pooh and his beloved honey. Harry Potter’s shepherd’s pie with a foaming tankard of butter beer to the mouthwatering descriptions of chocolates in the aptly named Chocolat.  And judging by the number of “novels for foodies” lists online and the fact that culinary fiction is hugely popular, I’m obviously not the only one who noticed this.

Butcher and blogger, Cara Nicoletti, has always been a bookworm. In her world, from childhood forward, books and food have always been a focus. Whether the books were shared with her by a family member during a particularly challenging period in Nicoletti’s life and meant to give solace, or simply by a friend who couldn’t wait to share their latest favourite read, she was happily surrounded by books.

In her book, Voracious: a hungry reader cooks her way through great books, Nicoletti shares her favourite works of literature along with food memories connected to each book, and recipes which compliment the meals featured between the covers.

She kicks things off with her childhood favourites, which include breakfast sausage from Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and salted chocolate caramels from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The middle section, which covers her university years, includes clam chowder (“Moby Dick”) and chocolate eclairs (“Mrs Dalloway”). Brown butter crepes inspired by Gone Girl help cap off the final “adulthood” chapters of Voracious.

I was intrigued by the concept of Voracious and had high expectations. Voracious was a quick, light read and I did enjoy Nicoletti’s memories however I was a little disappointed in the recipes. I’d hoped to find a few to try but in the end I wasn’t inspired enough to note more than one (chocolate-covered digestive biscuits…I love digestive biscuits and always stock up on Marks & Spencer’s brand when overseas).

Reading Voracious did get me thinking about some of my favourite books featuring food. Excluding food-focused memoirs written by Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, MFK Fisher and others, there are still a number with memorable scenes…scenes which will send you hurrying to the kitchen for a snack or to get cooking.

One of my favourite classics is Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. I have lost count of the number of times I have read it over the years. Oddly enough, I never progressed on to the others in the series. “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” just didn’t not have the same magic as Little Women.

In Little Women, the pages overflow with mentions of fluffy popovers (which the March sisters long for during tough times), rich steak and kidney pies, asparagus fresh from the garden, homemade currant jelly on freshly baked bread, sugarplums, petit fours with lemonade, soothing blancmange, and more. Oh, and there are some fairly comical disasters in the kitchen as well, to which we all can relate.

Going along with the theme in Voracious, I will share my recipe for popovers, inspired by the Christmas breakfast shared by the March family in Little Women. I love these when served warm with blackcurrant sloe gin preserves, but any jam will do.

— Sandi H.

Popovers

2 eggs
1 c milk
3 tblsp oil (I use Becel)
1 c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450F.

Beat eggs until frothy. Mix in milk and oil. Gradually add in flour and salt, gently stirring to combine.

Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin tins. Fill each cup ½ full. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.

Serve warm.

Battle of the Confections

How often do you have two books you’ve placed on hold come in at the same time AND they both have a slightly unique word in the title?

Last week The Confectioner’s Tale (by Laura Madeleine) and Confections of a Closet Master Baker (by Gesine Bullock Prado) came in for me at the library. One fiction, the other non-fic. One new, one oldish. Both I’d looked forward to reading. Both had engaging covers…not that we ever judge a book by that!

After a very technical decision process (eenymeenyminymoe) I started with the novel, The Confectioner’s Tale. The book bounces between Paris in 1910 and Cambridge (England, not Ontario) in 1988. A reluctant student, Petra, discovers a mysterious photo of her beloved grandfather. Setting aside her studies, Petra sets out on a quest to learn the truth behind the old black and white.

The back story follows a young man, Gui, who is struggling to survive in Paris in the early days of the 20th century. He works long days, labouring for the railway, sending the majority of his pay home, while dreaming of a better life. This “better life” would be in the kitchen of one of the top patisseries in Paris, learning on the job to become a top if not master baker. A chance encounter with the owner’s daughter and a dramatic rescue during the devastating Paris floods, sets Gui on the path to the career (and the woman) of his dreams. But, as we all know, “be careful what you wish for” are words to heed.

While I found the story, particularly that focusing on Petra’s journey through her grandfather’s past, interesting, the book really didn’t hold my attention completely. I could put it down BUT I was curious enough to read it cover to cover and crave a freshly made raspberry macaron. Onto Confections of a Closet Master Baker.

I learned about Gesine Bullock-Prado through a friend. Yes, the author is Sandra Bullock’s sister but this book isn’t about stars, Hollywood or the movie industry. Those topics are touched upon lightly as Bullock-Prado previously worked as head of her famous sister’s production company. While she and her sister are very close, the Hollywood lifestyle was not for Bullock-Prado. Basically, she hated it.

Bullock-Prado and her husband, Ray, who is also in the movie industry, made the leap. They quit their jobs, moved to Montpelier, Vermont and open a small bakery/coffee shop. Throughout the book, family recipes are shared as are memories, the majority focusing on Bullock-Prado’s mother, a former opera singer.

The stories she shares are in turns humourous and touching. The recipes sound wonderful although some are most definitely not for beginners. I flew through the book, enjoyed each shared memory and made note of a fair number of recipes I definitely want to try.

So, the winner of the Battle of the Confections? Confections of a Closet Master Baker. I’m looking forward to reading her other biography/memoir, “My Life From Scratch.” which I have already placed an interlibrary loan request for as it is not part of the WPL collection. For a list of Bullock-Prado’s cookbooks, visit http://www.gbakes.com/p/books.html

In honour of Bullock-Prado generously sharing family recipes for her favourite baked goods, I will do the same, sharing my great-grandmother’s recipe for devil’s food cake. She first made it in the late 1930s/early 1940s and it has been THE birthday cake recipe in our family every since. Enjoy.

— Sandi H.

Devil’s Food Cake

½ c Fry’s cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
½ c. warm water
¾ c butter, softened
1 ¾ c. white sugar
¾ c sour milk*
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ½ c all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease 2 – 8” round baking tins. Set aside.

In medium bowl whisk together cocoa, soda, and warm water. Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in sour milk and eggs. Blend in flour and then the chocolate-soda mixture.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cakes pass the tooth pick test. Let cool slightly in tins before removing the cakes to cool on racks. When completely cool, ice with your favourite frosting.

* for the sour milk, we measure out the ¾ c milk, add a little lemon juice, and letting stand for a few minutes