Brief Thoughts on November Nonfiction Reads

I had plans to actually get some longer thoughts posted on a few books I read and loved recently, but work got busy, and now my mom and aunt are visiting for a few days. My mom flew in from PEI with oysters and mussels so we’ve had a seafood feast, and now we’re entertaining ourselves with food and shows and more tasty food!

Since November 1st I’ve read 5 non-fiction books. That number is so high because three of them were graphic novels (which seems to be a bit of a theme this year in my reading, and in the nonfiction reading of others this month), one was a cookbook, and one was a book of poetry (which perhaps shouldn’t count, but I think do). Here are my thoughts on all five of them.

Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach

I picked this book up because I LOVE Dinner: A Love Story by Rosenstrach. It is basically my food bible. I’ve gifted it a number of times and each time I have, I get back rave reviews. It is a good story, but also packed with simple yet truly delicious (and complicated tasting!) meals. Unfortunately I didn’t love The Playbook nearly as much. It is written as a challenge – to cook 30 new meals for your family in 30 days, as a way to get out of the rut of eating the same thing and of kids being unwilling to try new things. The recipes look good, but if you’re already happy enough with your cooking and variety, I recommend her first instead of this one. If you need a challenge to help you out, then try this one.

Fun Home: A Tragicomedy & Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Odd fact about me: I am generally very uncomfortable with memoirs. People are writing about their own lives, without the distance that an outside third-party might bring to their story, and they are writing while other inhabitants of their stories and worlds are still alive. This always leads me to wondering what those being written about actually think, and how much their lives may be disrupted by the publication.

Bechdel, in her defense, does talk about this. Are You My Mother? includes various discussions between her and her mother about the writing of Fun Home, about her mother’s thoughts on it, and about her mother’s thoughts on writing a book about her. It also included conversations with girlfriends and with therapists, and was really as much a look at the psychoanalytical theories on growing up and the bond between mothers and daughters, the effects of growing up in abusive homes, and so on as it was a true story about her and her mother.

Fun Home, rather than tackling the subject of the effects of family on later life, is all about her father, their life growing up with him, some of his history, and his death. It discusses his violence, his time in therapy, his brush with the law, and his sexuality. Bechdel compares her coming out as gay to his closeted gayness. I’m just going to say that the parts about her dad and his, basically, grooming of younger men did put me off slightly, as the power imbalance (he was a teacher) could have affected consent. Did anyone else wonder on this, or was that just me?

Both books are graphic memoirs, broken into different chapters which don’t necessarily flow in a chronological order. I found them both to be slightly disjointed, although interesting. Decent reads, though not favourites.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Another graphic memoir, although this one, being more about the author herself and not disparaging of others in her life, didn’t make me quite as uncomfortable as memoirs generally do. In Relish Knisley discusses memories and food, and how the two are often linked for her. Her family is heavily involved in food and the food industry, and so food made up a large part of her life. Through the memoir she shares different memories through her life of food, cooking, and travels. Each chapter ends with a short recipe, which all looked interesting and delicious. I again found it decent but not a favourite.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppernann

I saved the best for last – this collection of poems was incredible. The collection starts with an opening poem titled The Woods:

The action’s always there.
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor’s office of the back of the bus
where bad things also happen?
Pigs can buy cheap building materials
just as easily in the suburbs.
Wolves stage invasions. Girls spit out
cereal, break chairs, and curl beneath
covers like pill bugs or selfish grannies
avoiding the mess.
No need for a bunch of trees.
You can lost your way anywhere.

So many lines and stanzas and whole poems in this collection really resonated and could become quotable favourites. Heppernann does a great job bringing the fairy tale to every day life, showing the ways the stories we are told as children continue to both resonate through our lives and haunt our lives. She expertly skewers the beauty myths and expectations placed on young women throughout, in unsettling, dark, and beautiful poems.

You can feel free to skip the rest, but I highly recommend you pick up this one!

What have you been reading through the start of nonfiction November?

9 thoughts on “Brief Thoughts on November Nonfiction Reads

  1. Ana @ things mean a lot

    I loved Poisoned Apples too – hopefully I’ll get to write about it soon.

    I really liked Fun Home, though the disjointedness of Are You My Mother? did bother me. Maybe I changed as a reader in the intervening years. Have you read Dykes To Watch Out For? If not, I really recommend it.

  2. Trisha

    I really need to start reading graphic novels again; I really enjoy them, but for one reason or another, they have taken a backseat these past two years.

  3. Sharlene

    What? Your mum flies in with oysters and mussels!!! Wow! What a treat!

    I didn’t manage to finish reading Are you my Mother? I found it rather hard to get through although I did read Fun Home to the end. I quite liked Relish but not Knisley’s previous French Milk. But yes I do feel sometimes that memoirs are a bit uncomfortable to read!

    I just finished Men We Reaped!

  4. Debi

    While I have just added Dinner: A Love Story to my wish list (it’s been dancing around trying to gain my attention for a while, but you just sold it completely), what most caught my fancy in this post is the idea that poetry can be non-fiction. Honestly, that thought had never occurred to me (despite the fact that that’s where it’s shelved a la Dewey Decimal–so yeah, duh Debi, this should not come as a completely novel idea and yet somehow it does 😛 ).
    I also liked what you said about memoirs. I read them occasionally, but not a lot. But my internal mantra as I read them is, “This is one person’s truth. This is not the truth of anyone else mentioned.” I liked both of Bechdel’s memoirs (Fun Home more so) but honestly didn’t love them. But, like Ana, I adored The Essential Dykes to Watch Out for–honestly one of my favorite books ever.

  5. Sophie

    Oysters and mussels sound AMAZING! When I visited the Maritimes for the first time last summer, I was completely blown away by the seafood there. 🙂

    Poisoned Apples looks like a quirky and fun read, so I’ll have to check that one out soon. I love fairy tale retellings, so this one seems like a good fit!

  6. Sara

    I’ve soooo been wanting to read Dinner: A Love Story, but I can’t quite convince myself to buy it. Perhaps a Christmas gift…. The Poisoned Apples collection sounds great, too. Would it be appropriate for high school students?

  7. Vishy

    Nice to see you back blogging, Amy. Loved your short reviews. I have read Lucy Knisley’s ‘Relish’ and liked it very much. I even gifted it many of my friends. ‘Dinner : A Love Story’ looks like a beautiful book. I will add it to my ‘TBR’ list. Sorry to know that you found Alison Bechdel’s memoirs slightly disjointed. I hope to read ‘Fun Home’ sometime. Christine Heppernann’s poem ‘Poisoned Apples’ is very beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Trish

    As part of a promotion, I received a week of meal planning for Dinner: The Playbook but the recipes were more complicated than I would normally cook and they were things that those three others at my dinner table would look at with disgust. So.

    Interesting about your feelings with memoirs. I didn’t find Knisley’s to be as deep as many memoirs–not as much feeling and emotion (I loved Relish, so it worked for me), but I wonder if that’s why it was easier to digest?


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