I should know better than to browse a new bookstore and expect to walk out without purchasing anything. Especially if I walk into that bookstore specifically to browse their cookbook collection and find terrific prices on many tempting titles. I adore the cookbook section of every bookstore—it’s the sort of place I like to go when I’m feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or even just bored. College Station’s Half Price Books moved across town and into my neighborhood, and visiting the new store seemed like a good thing to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
I walked into Half Price Books, and the air smelled like fresh construction, that sharp mixture of wood and paper and cleaning solutions. The store feels a little like a warehouse; it lacks the coziness of Barnes & Noble or Hastings. There’s no cafe, no coffee brewing, just books and the people who love them. Half Price Books is not a place for studying or hanging out with your friends; it’s a bookstore in the true sense of the word. The cookbook section was to the left, divided into two nooks, one with the traditional and ethnic cookbooks and the other with the diet and healthy cookbooks. I perused the shelves slowly—it was a slow afternoon—and found a copy of The New American Olive Oil by Fran Gage (and edited by our very own Luisa Weiss!), a book I had read once for my Project Olive Oil. Here it was, in sparkling good condition, for less than ten bucks. I took that one home with me.
But my bigger discovery of the day is pictured up at the top: an intriguing, enormous paperback called The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp. This book is a serious treasure trove for anyone who loves books and food. This tome focuses on matching book club reading selections with delicious food to eat while discussing the book. Admittedly, I am in a constant state of drowning in recipes, so I’m less interested in the recipes and more interested in the reading selections, though this book does contain recipes for mojitos and mint juleps, which I plan on drinking this summer while reading on my patio. Anyway, I found this book at an opportune time, as I’ve been compiling my 2011 reading list, and The Book Club Cookbook offered lots of inspiration. My friends also helped, and so did some of my blogging friends. It’s a good thing that the university has a mighty fine library because I’m going to be combing its shelves regularly this year to find my fourteen selections. Without further ado, here is my list for the year, in alphabetical order by title.
* The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Matt recommended this book to me when I was telling him how much I enjoyed reading about the Gilded Age of late nineteenth-century America in The Devil in the White City. And what do you know! It turned up as one of the first books discussed in The Book Club Cookbook. How nice of the authors to remind me about Edith Wharton!
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This one sounds exciting! And while Chrissy was reading it, she said, “It just keeps getting better and better!” Now that’s my kind of adventure novel. (And do click on the link and tell me the second photo is not the sweetest image of bedtime reading. I love that photo.)
* Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God by Jonah Blank. My beautiful bookworm friend a of still life offered me a dazzling array of recommendations, three of which I’m putting on The List. She writes that this book “takes India's ancient epic folktale, the Ramayana, and follows it through modern India.” Sounds interesting!
* The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Matt and I often go for walks in parks and woods, and he loves to mention this book. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read it yet. Actually, I think he knows I haven’t read it or many of the other thousands of books he has read (literally! THOUSANDS!), but this one should be fun and interesting. What’s not to love about plant sex?
* Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I plucked this suggestion out of The Book Club Cookbook. It’s hard to believe I haven’t read Chocolat yet! For those of you who live under a rock like I do, here’s the gist: tiny French town scandalized when woman opens chocolate shop. Priest is appalled. Much deliciousness ensues.
* Four Fish: The Last Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg. This one’s a recommendation from my friend JD, who is always reading provocative environmental and political books. Though I don’t eat fish, the issues that surround food choices are near and dear to my heart.
* My Antonia by Willa Cather. Ah, there are so many classic books out there that I have not read! This is another. Since this one is about pioneers in Nebraska, I’m hoping that it will inspire me to do more kitchen projects that I’ve neglected lately—granola, sourdough blueberry pancakes, homemade veggie burgers. Not that they ate any of those things on the prairie, but whatever: it’s the do-it-yourself spirit that counts!
* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It’s hard to read classic books like Pride and Prejudice when you live under a rock.
* The Red Tent by Anita Diamint. This biblically-inspired novel is another recommendation from The Book Club Cookbook. Gail Hudson wrote, “It's been said that The Red Tent is what the Bible might have been had it been written by God's daughters, instead of her sons.” Intriguing! I love the idea of giving a voice to silent female characters from the Bible. (And damn the patriarchy!)
* Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop. Another recommendation from a, this one is about bees and honey, which a said was “absolutely fascinating.”
* The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. I think I will love this book. It should probably be required reading for scientists, though I say that before I’ve read the book. I may change my mind. Case in point: Richard Dawkins should probably be required reading for biologists, and I loathe reading books by Richard Dawkins. So we shall see!
* Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine. My friend Rebecca offered me this recommendation. The story seems to revolve around Mormon social conflict and wilderness preservation in Utah. The Booklist review on Amazon says, “Forthright and imaginative, sensitive and tough, Irvine joins red-rock heroes Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams in breaking ranks and speaking up for the living world.” The Edward Abbey mention hits me in the heart. As much as I love the lush greenery of Michigan, I also love the stark open landscape of the desert.
* Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This selection is actually a reread for me. I vaguely remember reading Wuthering Heights in high school, but it was so long ago that all I remember are the names of the two main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine. Now that I’m older, I think I’ll enjoy this dark, twisted, classic novel with the wisdom one gains from surviving a few heartbreaks.
* Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. The third pick on this list from my friend a, this one is the story of a Syrian-born man living in post-Katrina New Orleans and how his ethnicity made him a target of the War on Terror in a city devastated by natural disaster. I think this one will break my heart, but I’ll have my hanky nearby.
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I had thought that my reading list would be enormous—dozens and dozens of books, enough to keep me reading for the next five years. But I think fourteen books is enough. There’s a lot of variety here—adventure, romance, science, fiction, nonfiction, uplifting, darkhearted—and it’s really great to have culled my selections from a variety of people and sources. Best of all, I have no excuses for not expanding my reading horizons. Fortunately, one can expand one’s horizons from the comfort of the couch. I’ll see you on the cushions, friends!