What We’re Reading: Non-Fiction

From Beth-Anne

imgresThe Can(‘t) Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

It’s no secret that I can’t cook.  Correction: I don’t like to cook.  However, since becoming a mother, I have honed some survival skills in the kitchen but cooking up a feast I have not yet done.  Nor do I have any plans to do so.  In my most recent cleaning purge, I finally tossed the file folder of recipe clippings I have been collecting since 2003.  Let’s be real: I was never going to cook anything from that packet of papers and it was liberating to watch the magazine pages flutter to their demise in the recycle bin.  Best to concentrate my efforts on what I enjoy doing and not trying to be someone who I am not.

That being said my three little boys ALWAYS WANT TO EAT!  What’s with these kids?  I am reminded of Nathalie’s favourite meme that depicts an exhausted looking mother slumped over, cradling her head with the words: Why do they want dinner every single night? url

Enter Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can(‘t) Cook Book, a simple how-to guide for the absolute beginner cook.  She gives all the basics: what tools your kitchen needs, what to stock the pantry with and visual step-by-step instructions on proper cutting technique.  The recipes claim to be easy and quick (they are).  She had me at easy and quick.

This spiral-bound, picture heavy, simplified cook book is all that I need.  Family favourites include pan-roasted chicken breasts (I made these without setting off the fire dectector), crispy shrimp (so ridiculously easy and delicious that my 7 year old can make them with little supervision) and Mexican corn (but really, who doesn’t love Mexican corn?).



Sometimes you just need a little pick me up.  Retail therapy, a hot bath, a good book, a night out with friends: all of these are often cited as just the ticket to boosting a sad mood.  But what if you’re looking for a little inspiration or some words of encouragement?  SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN is just that.  This elegantly illustrated book features words of wisdom from many wise women including Harper Lee, Peal Buck, Rachel Carson, Hilary Clinton, Mother Teresa, and many more.  Their words are meant to empower, inspire and encourage women on the topics of leadership, friendship, purpose, risk-taking, compassion and more.  Maybe she is a recent graduate?  Maybe she is looking to change careers?  Maybe she is about to embark on travel adventure?  Maybe she is unsure of her future?  Whatever the challenge she is up against, SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN offers advice from women who have been there, done that and have lived to tell the tale.

From Nathalie

keeganThe Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Anne Fadiman, one of my all-time favourite writers, wrote the preface for this posthumously published collection of essays and short fiction written by a former student of hers.  The book is named for the essay that she wrote for the Yale Daily News and that went viral when she died in a car crash.  It’s a wonderfully passionate essay.  I would read the back of a cereal box if Anne Fadiman recommended it, so I have to say that I was surprised that this book did not quite live up to its hype.  The essays are impressive, and she does have a voice that is uniquely her own, and it is clear that this is a writer with many talents and a lot of promise.  I had the feeling, though, that I’m just too old to appreciate them.

RR_InPraiseIn Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe

We are not supposed to like Katie Roiphe.  She wrote a book a few years back in which she said that part of the blame for date rape rests with the victim.  I can’t comment; I didn’t read the book.  I wouldn’t read it because I don’t like that kind of shock tactic stunt.

I’m beginning to think that I made a mistake to dismiss it on the basis of the reporting of that stunt.

This collection of essays knocked my socks off.  She’s ferociously smart, incisive and, yes, opinionated.  Her opinions, though, she backs up with powerful and persuasive writing.  Her essay on Joan Didion is so beautifully crafted I want to frame it, but it is her essays on parenting that really hit home with me.  She tells things that make me uncomfortable, she makes observations that make me squirm, and I think that’s a good thing.  In “The Feminine Mystique on Facebook” she writes about the trend of using your child’s photo as your profile picture:

Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favourite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century.  Where have all these women gone?

And in “The Child is King,” in which she reviews Elisabeth Badinter’s  book about our child-centric culture, The Conflict, she draws attention to

the dark idea…that children are the best excuse in the world not to pursue happiness, not to live fully or take risks or attempt the work one loves.  The compromises we make are justified, elevated, and transfigured by the fact of children, and this can be a relief.

I really enjoyed sparring with the ideas in this book.  I found myself disagreeing sometimes, but always able to respect the thread and construction of her arguments.

Book-Cover-Dreaming-of-Elsewhere_mediumDreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home by Esi Edugyan

This slim book is Esi Edugyan’s lecture for the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series at the University of Alberta.  Edugyan, the winner of the 2012 Giller Prize for Half-Blood Blues, explores her sense of “home” and “belonging.”

Home for me was not a birthright, but an invention. … I do not think home is a place, only.  Nor do I think belonging is the most important of our possibilities, long for it though we might.  I believe home is a way of thinking, an idea of belonging, which matters more to us than the thing itself.


From Carol

start somethingStart Something that Matters by Blake McCoskie

Easy and uplifting read about a young man’s successful foray into unconventional business with heart.  He started TOMS, a shoe company that promised that for every pair of shoes sold, a pair would be donated to a child who needed them.  Apparently these shoes are everywhere, and just last week, I saw my first pair at my son’s school.  McCoskie is unabashedly passionate about the uncharted possibilities of social enterprise; I felt old when “youthful exuberance” came to mind to describe the tone of the book.  It’s not to be dismissed for this but appreciated, and I finishing the read with the feeling that the world of business doesn’t just need more infusions of ethics, but also imagination.

4 hourThe Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

I surprised myself by picking this up again – I had borrowed it from the library and failed to read it a few years ago – but I got through it this time.  Ferriss is the founder of a sports nutrition company and tells the story of how he mastered the art of streamlining his work processes so he can – you guessed it – work four hours a week.

I don’t subscribe to major premises of his book.  He asserts that for 90% of us, the best job is the one that takes the least time; I disagree so fall into that little 10% window.  His master tools for freeing up time are outsourcing as many tasks at work and home as possible and leveraging the power of the Western dollar by living for extended periods somewhere with a weaker currency.  Neither of these ideas appeal to me:  I both want to live the details of my life and enjoy the rootedness of living in one place, single currency and all.

But I was drawn to the ruthlessness with which Ferriss cuts out things he didn’t want in his life.  He guards his time passionately against infringements he doesn’t want and gives firm reasons and methods of saying no, which can be summarized neatly by the mandate:  say no.  He recognized in his life the existence of the Pareto principle – that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, for better or for worse – and worked to maximize the beneficial 20% and cut the crap 20% that was causing 80% of his grief.   Most impressive is how he eliminating a few toxic connections to huge benefit.   And he slices through common and generally accepted excuses for living less than a full life.  His version of this is not mine, but I was persuaded by his basic argument that all of us have far more choices than we exercise.  The book galvanized me to make a couple of difficult but positive changes after reading it, so I have an indebtedness to it.

all you needAll You Need Is Less by Madeleine Somerville

I was given this book to review, and have been looking for a good way to describe it.  It’s subtitle is “The Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity”, and this type of claim is made on a zillion green books.  This one is different because of its content though, which I think I might describe it as the next generation of green living.  We’re beyond turning out the lights when we leave a room and only running the dishwasher when it’s full in this book; we’re into clotheslines and worm bins and neti pots.  Somerville is easy-going and self-deprecating while she tries to bring this next tier of green into the centre – she makes fun of “hippie-ness” so no one else can and there’s no holier-than-you tone in this book.  Sometimes she tries a bit too hard – I cringed when she reduces the benefits of acupuncture mostly to creating a placebo effect – but this is a good resource for anyone who has made the more well-known green changes and wants to take it to the next level.