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Check It Out

Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, July 8, 2001

Trip to Chicago's BookExpo Inspires Suggestions

In early June a trip to Chicago for BookExpo gave me a fabulous opportunity to view several acres of publisher's booths (with free books and promotional items), schmooz with people in the trade, and hear a number of famous authors; James Patterson, Isabelle Allende, and David McCullough to name a few. I also caught a glimpse of Oprah and her bodyguards. Seeing and hearing authors gives one a much greater appreciation of their books and Book Expo was a three day extravaganza for me. Today's book suggestions were in some way inspired by my trip and are all available through your public library.

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl (Random House, 2001).

Reichl, once the restaurant critic at the New York Times, and now Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine spoke at a workshop on hand-selling I attended at BookExpo. She was a charming and at-ease speaker. This is her second book, a follow up to her childhood memoir, Tender At The Bone, an account of her early love of food and cooking. I was particularly interested in this continuation, which relates her years living in a Berkeley commune, her first marriage and the start of her career as a food writer. She becomes acquainted with such food luminaries as M.F.K. Fisher, Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters (of Chez Pannise). She travels to Paris, moves to Los Angeles, marries a second time, adopts a baby and is devastated when the birth mother reclaims it. The book ends on a hopeful note and leaves the reader eagerly awaiting a third installment. You don't have to be a foodie to appreciate the wit, wisdom and culinary history conveyed by Ms. Reichl.

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (Harcourt, 2001).

"A loose gown, a loose woman" is the definition of the title of this intriguing new historical novel from an Irish-born author of considerable talent. Luckily I only had to stand in line a few minutes at BookExpo to get an autographed copy of a tale of a young woman's hunger for fine clothes, a higher station in life and a mother who loves her. Life as a prostitute on the streets of London offers a sort of independence, excitement and a sense of power to the teenaged heroine. When illness forces her to seek a place in an asylum for fallen women she experiences regular meals, clean clothes and a warm bed for the first time in her life. What she looses is her freedom and the restrictions of the institution become intolerable. Discovering her friend and mentor dead in an alleyway she flees to a small town near Wales and finds employment as a maid and seamstress with an old friend of her mother. But the longing for freedom and fine clothes leads her back to her old profession and eventually to tragedy. This is an auspicious beginning for a young author.

Carry Me Across the Water by Ethan Canin (Random House, 2001).

August Kleinman is an elderly man who made his fortune brewing beer in Pittsburgh. He mentally revisits his early youth in Vienna as the son of an old Jewish family. He escapes to America with his mother who finds a new husband who is warm,loving and religious. A pivotal encounter with a Japanese solder is a major event which follows Kleinman through life. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and the themes intertwine. It sounds confusing but it works because Canin is a practiced short story writer who has used the technique to great effect in this fast-moving little gem.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2001).

I've loved so many of Tyler's books but this one left me exasperated with the heroine, Rebecca Davitch and all her quirkily-named relatives (No No, Min Foo, Jeep, Brick, Patch). Rebecca has reached the age of 53, and is having an identity crisis, but the tale goes on and on and the reader keeps wondering what is the point? When I told my friend the English professor I thought a more apt ending title word would be "groan-ups" she replied: "My quick and over-simple diagnosis is that she (Tyler) is so good she can do almost anything with her characters, but seems to have stopped challenging them (or herself) to the really difficult, or new, things". Die-hard Tyler fans will want to give this one a try, otherwise I suggest a re-reading one of her more masterful earlier works such as "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant".

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.