The Girl Booker

The Girl Booker

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wife Drought Love

Zeitgeist. The Wife Drought has hit the zeitgeist square in the eye, like a freakishly timed splash of chilli oil from a Chinese hot, but much less painfully and with far fewer tears.  I was so excited about reading it that I put a picture of the book up on my Facebook account when I received it, and I think the only other post I have received more attention from is the one announcing my pregnancy. In subsequent days, several other friends posted about the book themselves. One lovely lady took herself off and waited for a bookshop to open so she could buy it. I’m not sure that’s happened since the final Harry Potter book was published.

So what is the book about? Put simply, it is about men, women, family and work.  Put slightly less simply, it is about how those four things get matched and mismatched, what society's expectations are, and what they could or should be. It is a conversation I have been very keen to have for a while now, and I am so heartened to see that I am far from alone. The conversation, in inimitable Annnabel Crabb style, is probing yet cheeky, and unutterably thought provoking. It covers much similar ground to Overwhelmed, which I raved blogged about earlier this year

To sum up, it’s a fucking awesome book and everyone over the age of about ten should read it. And Annabel Crabb Is my hero. And Annabel, if you are reading this can we get married so I can be your wife? Or you could be my wife. We could BE EACH OTHER'S WIVES! Or we could just be really, really, really great friends who do everything together and go to each other's place for dinner all the time and talk about politics and food and the sisterhood. I mean that in a totally non-stalkerish way of course. I can make a super delicious Greek dish made from chickpeas and zucchini that I think you'd really love...

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Than Cold Comfort

Sorry to be boring; I know I have raved previously about Stella Gibbons (best known for writing Cold Comfort Farm on this blog. I will try not to repeat myself too much as I gush and enthuse about Here Be Dragons, the latest of her out-of-print-for-many-years-but-now-reissued that novels I have just read.

There is a slow, quiet wonder in this book. It is ostensibly a story about some pretty plain and ordinary people, yet it is dreamy and whirling and wondrously, magically descriptive. Some of Gibbon’s turns of phrase are so scrumptious I want to eat them. I have loved the experience of merrily reading the story, and then being pulled out of it to notice a delightful sentence that makes me mentally sigh and clasp the book to my chest in momentary ecstasy.

“… The hush of the dead hour before dawn, and neglect, and the past, lay over the walls gleaming softly in an embossed paper of cream and silver.

In the more down to earth moments, the book is fully of mid-century English people having tea and cakes, and being organised industriously by competent females. Something about this feels like magic to me too, and it reminds me of so many authors and books I have loved over the years: Mary Wesley, Nancy Mitford, Noel Streatfield. Not to mention a series of books about girls in a Swiss boarding school I read quite obesessively between the ages of about ten and fourteen.

I think the weaving together of the ordinary with the fey is what makes the book such a delight to read. The whimsical passages become more approachable and believable, and one is given permission to relish them, mixed up as they are between more sensible, solid concepts and characters. Likewise, these characters seem more interesting and Romantic than they otherwise would because of the floating passages that sometimes describe their movements and machinations. 

Five tea cakes out of five.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Return From Hiatus

Poor, dear, sad old blog. So neglected!
I haven't been reading very thoughtfully over the past three months; I've been reading to fill the white noise, the way you do in the waiting room of a doctor's surgery. And there has been a fair bit of time spent there lately now that I come to mention it. I don't mean to make pregnancy sound so dramatic but I have to confess that it is EXHAUSTING! I haven't had the physical or mental stamina to read much, let alone think about what I have managed to read. Perhaps that's why the baby name books are so appealing - no nonlinear narrative or complicated character arcs to keep abreast of. One thing I have learnt, to my surprise, is that there are a lot of names out there that I really hate. 
Rather than list all the baby name books I have been reading, here is a selection of other things that I have read recently, with the few thoughts I managed to have about them:

You Should Have Known (Jean Hanff Korelitz)- a really excellent psychological thriller. A why-dunit rather than a whodunit, it kept me completely gripped. 

Persiana (Sabrina Ghayour)- so far all I have done is look at the pictures and read through a few recipes of this lush and lovely cookbook by a self taught British cook of Middle Eastern background. What appeals to me is that she seems like my kind of cook, ie, taking every possible shortcut (as long as it doesn't involve shit like tinned soup) in the process. I have a few books with some similar recipes in them but these in general seem less complicated to achieve while still looking delicious. I have made what is possibly the simplest salad in the book and it was delightfully fresh.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Joel Dicker) - I've been reading and hearing a bit lately about the idea that serious literary fiction is doomed to die an inevitable death, because people now read in snippets and snatches of time. This book would seem an excellent resource in support of that argument, as I found it perfect train- and lunchtime-reading fodder. I don't think that detracts from the book though, it was punchy and full of great twists and was was just downright entertaining.

Gossip (Beth Gutcheon) - the mood of this book reminded me of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep (an amazing read if you ever get the chance) and a tiny bit like Nancy Mitford's novels. I thought it was really fantastic. I'm a bit disappointed I wasn't able to devote a full blog post to this book because I want to rant and rave about it a bit. It was pretty easy to read but wasn't especially lightweight, not exactly serious but less frivolous than the cover and title may lead one to believe. And Gutcheon writes with an assured and light touch that makes one skim through the book like a swan across the water.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Her Salinger Year

Often when I read a good book I think of the different kinds of people who I think would also enjoy it. And that is often what I have in mind when writing about said book on this blog. I am struggling a little with this one, because I loved it so much, that it felt almost as if it were written for me alone. I am very hard pressed to think beyond how much I loved it, and as a result I am unsure whether or not anyone else will like it at all. I can only imagine every person in the world will love it but I know my judgement is clouded.

My Salinger Year is the book industry’s version of The DevilWears Prada. It’s New York, it’s a young female narrator, and its a view into a world that sounds glamorous and dreamy to outsiders. However, there is no nastiness or spite. Instead, there is a dictaphone and typewriter in a computerless office in 1996. Rakoff brings New York to bustling life as a contrast to the cool, dark quiet of the office where she works. She makes both locations covetable, which means the book is a joy to read.

It wasn’t a bombastically life changing book. It was quiet and nice and I looked forward to the end of each day so I could read a bit more. It was also about the struggles of life as a young adult trying to figure it all out. I loved the world the book conjured up, and I loved reading about Rakoff’s journey to figuring out exactly where and how she fit in it. 

The tagline on the cover of my editions says "We all have to start somewhere", and that's a sentiment I really appreciated in the book. I love to learn about people's beginnings; the experiences they have had that have set them on the paths they take. And having spent quite a lot of my professional life in rather humble jobs, it's inspiring to know that such roles can be exciting, enjoyable, enviable and other nice things starting with the letter E.

My Salinger Year spoke to me for so many reasons. It was a book about the person I was 10 years ago, and also about the person I am today. It was about a world I dream about visiting, and also about a world I live in now. The only fault I can really find with it is that I wish it were double the length; it was over way too soon. I would recommend this book to: anyone who can read.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Overwhelmed by Overwhelmed

I am not quite sure how to go about describing what it is like to read a book you have been waiting a long time to read even though you weren’t sure whether or not it existed. It is a fantastic experience. Every page feels packed with meaning and import. Overwhelemed by Brigid Schulte was just such a book for me and I loved EVERY GODDAMN PAGE. Perhaps if you imagine some firework- and people cheering excitedly-type gifs about here you will get a feel for how awesome this book was.

So what is the book actually about? It is a book about feminism in action. And I don’t mean it’s a debate about whether or not lipstick and high heels are pro- or anti- woman. It is about the home, the workplace, childcare, quality of life. 

Overwhelemed is the answer to a big and complicated question: Can women have it all? The answer has to begin with another question, namely, “Can men have it all?” Women need to have equal responsibilities in the workplace, just as men need to have equal responsibilities in the home. This book is about how everyone needs to change their expectations, their attitudes and their behaviours for this to be achieved. Shulte address the prejudices against men (namely, that they are expected to be emotionless breadwinners) as well as against women (who many still expect to be nothing more than walking, talking extensions of a nurturing nipple). Without looking at the whole picture, which includes both men and women, we are never going to arrive at a full answer to the problem.

Despite the very urgent and important nature of this book, I can honestly say that it was a joy to read. It was not depressing or bogged down in dense prose, it was everyday and down to earth and chatty and honest. It was full of hope and it has inspired me to be excited about life. It discussed problems and solutions. Solutions which feel totally achievable. Overwhelmed is one of the most life-changing books I think I will ever have the pleasure to read, and I genuinely hope plenty of others read it too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vive la France!

It may look to the casual reader of this blog that I am obsessed with books about France. I’m not, I swear it! However, I am obsessed with books about food (and food itself), and it just so happens that two of the recent food books I stumbled upon happen to be about food in France. The latest is John Baxter’s The Perfect Meal. I am officially declaring Baxter the Clive James of books about life in France. He has written a male Baby Boomer’s amusing and fact-packed take on traditional French food and culture; it was a nice, easy book to read and kept me entertained.

There were plenty of really interesting historical facts peppered throughout the book, and I think that's what I enjoyed the most about it. Sometimes books about food can get a bit too gushy, but this was never a problem in The Perfect Meal, as the focus was more on the various quirks of history than the food itself. I didn't fall in love with this book the way I fell in love with Mastering The Art of French Eating, but I did enjoy reading it almost as much. 

Three roast oxen out of five.

Image credit

Saturday, April 5, 2014

If You've Been Married Four Times Does That Make You An Expert?

I have been very naughty lately. I have been concurrently reading several books, which meant that it took a very long time for me to finish even one of them. It's taken a while, but I have finally made it! First cab off the rank is Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. It was one of those books where I got sucked right in to the story with impressive immediacy. Even reading in stops and starts on the train didn't alter the fact that about five words in and I was back there - Paris, Cuba, or wherever Hemingway and his current wife happened to be.

Wood draws four very distinct characters for each successive Mrs H, yet manages to make each of them sympathetic portrayals of a woman in love with a loveable cad. Although a work of fiction, she has used a lot of research to built up the story. I don't know a lot about Hemingway so I am not sure what a purist would think but I thought the book was riveting. Not really knowing the ending helped to make it a great read as well. I also rather liked the way some of the marriages made more sense in subsequent chapters; because there was a bit of distance to the depiction.

If this book were a drink it would be a strong, rum-based cocktail with a fancy lime garnish. It was seductive, cool and had a real bite to it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Je ne regrette rien

I am rather embarrassed to admit this, but I just read a book about a women who spends a year in Paris, and discovers a sense of belonging and joie de vivre through food. I know, I know, Cliche City. But it didn't feel like a cliche when I as reading it, it felt like a great book with some honest writing, local colour, and interesting observations on people, place and relationships. And a fair bit about cheese which I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy.

So, what was the book? Mastering The Art of French Eating by Ann Mah. In true bookie-foodie style, I am going to roast test a few of the recipes. The one that appealed the most was something I have never heard of called aligot which looks to be essentially mashed potato with a lot of cheese folded through it (see below). I am also quite tempted to hunt down a kitschy vintage fondue set in a bid to eat cheese in yet another fashion.

The verdict? Five cheese wheels out of five.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Eat Everyday

I love the promise of bounty that a cookbook provides. Sometimes just flicking through the pages is enough, although ultimately it's all about eating as much deliciousness as you can. I get very excited whenever a new cookbook joins it's fellows on my jolly yellow shelf, but I don't tend to blog about them all that often. I suppose because I am too busy cooking and then eating.

Today, however, I am inspired to write! A couple of months ago my lovely friend Ashleigh gave me a copy of Karen Martini's Everyday. There is a lot to love about this book. I was sold on the roasted winter vegetables recipe very early on, and have made it on a number of occasions, usually tweaking it a bit depending on what ingredients are to hand and it has been completely scrumptious each time. Last weekend the book got a serious workout, providing us with food for several meals. I made a fresh tomato and lime chutney, and dahl. The dahl quantity was so huge it didn't all fit in the pot I was using, so I omitted the can of kidney beans. This meant the dish was rather watery so I made a soup from the liquidy leftovers.

A few weeks ago I made the completely sensational tasting Coriander and Black Pepper Roast Chicken. It was before Christmas but I can still remember what a beautiful, tasty meal it made; incredibly tender chicken with wonderfully balanced flavours. This means I have broken that rule that says people only cook an average of three recipes from each cookbook. In theory, I have just beaten averageness, and need never cook from the book again. In reality, I will OF COURSE be going back for more. A number of the roasted meats and stews in particular look sensational, so coming in to winter I will be calling on Karen to provide us with some dinner delicacies. I took some food porn shots along the way but none of the pictures looked nearly as good as the food tasted, so my suggestion is just grab a copy of the book and cook it for yourself.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cheers, Darlin'

Despite the massive amount of shelf space given over to self help and fad diets in bookshops, it's not very often that reading a book can change your life.  So it is with a great deal of enthusiasm that I write this post, because I have a very strong feeling that High Sobriety will turn out to be one such book. It actually made me look at my life and patterns of behaviour, and think about how and why I might change them for the better. To be more precise, it did more than make me think about change, it gave me the tools and the courage to enact change, and that is something that doesn't happen very often.

So what's it all about? Interspersed with vats of facts and figures about alcohol consumption, High Sobriety is the story of Jill Stark's year without drinking. Some of the information is confronting, and some is horrifying.  If you are perfectly happy in the knowledge that you drink a bit too much and are utterly disinterested in changing that then I strongly recommend you DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

As well as the health issues which - worryingly - are more real on a  far lower level of alcohol consumption than I had previously imagined, the book looks at how and why our society normalises excessive drinking. It made me really think about how often I unthinkingly drink because it is the default position. Many of Stark's most difficult moments during the year are when people pressure her to drink because they are uncomfortable with her sober state.

Despite being rather horrified and freaked out at times while reading the book, I generally really enjoyed it. It is such a pleasure to read something well written AND interesting, and boy was it well written. I found myself swept along for the journey, wanting to know what happened next, happy to read for long stretched of time. It was a beautifully crafted book about a fascinating taboo and I cannot recommend it highly enough except to say I give it five lemon, lime and bitters out of five.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Triple Bill

A little over a year ago, I joined The Classics Club reading challenge. At the current rate, the only way I’ll even get close to finishing all 52 books on my list within the allotted five years is if I am sent to  live in exile somewhere with no access to people, TV or new books.  The challenge is Not Happening. The challenge and I are like two strangers set up on a blind date where one of us is waiting at the wrong venue. It’s not that I’m not reading, I’m just not reading anything from the list. I have a pile of three or four newly acquired books on my desk at work. The reason for this is that they do not fit on the shelf with the other 20.  There is a slim chance that I will leave the book industry and go to work on an oil rig, in which case I’ll pack a suitcase full of classics and some spare undies, and be able to finish the challenge. In the meantime, here’s a little run through of what I have been reading.

The Tea Chest
This is a debut novel from Queenslander Josephine Moon and I loved it. If books were food this would be a fairy cake - sweet but not cloying, nostalgic, a little whimsical and something you want to simultaneously gobble up and save for later. It was a book about tea so how could I not love it when my two favourite things in the world are books and tea?!

The Goldfinch
Mag-fucking-nificent. (Brona, please direct your readers to this page if they want an opposing opinion from your own!!). There were moments where I struggled (like Bron) to keep going but it was SO WORTH IT. It was juicy, compelling, exciting, melancholy, disturbing, evocative, thought provoking and thrilling. In a review in Kill Your Darlings journal, Margot McGovern references a BBC interview with Donna Tartt, where she mentions the desire “to give her readers that childhood feeling of breathlessly turning page after page, greedy to learn what happens next while still awarding each sentence the weight it deserves”. She achieves the aim to perfection, making The Goldfinch practically the definition of "unputdownable".


This book by Victoria Finlay has been sitting on my bookshelf, patiently waiting to be read for at least two years. I finally ran out of excuses not to read it, and took it down the other day to begin. I am so glad I did. A small part of me wishes I had read it sooner but I am enjoying it so much right now (haven’t quite finished it yet!) that I cannot begrudge my present self the pleasure it is currently bringing me. It is bursting with fascinating little stories and anecdotes and I keep wanting to share the fascinating facts as I discover them.  It's books like this one that make me realise there is nothing better than some well written non-fiction to inspire and enthuse.