Books in Brief: Five I Enjoyed Recently

Despite my largely successful resolution to focus on my own books for the summer, I’ve also gotten through plenty of e-books from NetGalley and Edelweiss, too. I just find it easier to fit time with the Kindle into my day, whether it’s 20 minutes over lunch (food-themed nonfiction works particularly well for such situations) or 30 minutes on the cross trainer. Here’s a sample of the e-books I’ve enjoyed this summer: four nonfiction and one fiction.

Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France

By Craig Carlson

pancakesA good-natured memoir about the travails of opening the first American-style diner in Paris. Carlson charts his somewhat chaotic growing-up years in Connecticut, the college study abroad experience that kindled his love for France, his years trying to make it as a screenwriter and director in Hollywood, his long-held dream of opening Breakfast in America, and finding a French sweetheart of his own. Much of the book is devoted to a blow-by-blow of the bureaucratic nightmare of opening a restaurant, starting with getting investors on board and continuing through France’s ridiculously restrictive labor laws. (The impression I came away with was: France – great place to be an employee or rent property; terrible place to start a business.) Next time I’m in Paris, I will be looking to get myself a stack of his signature blueberry and white chocolate chip pancakes. Releases September 6th. 3.5 star rating


When in French: Love in a Second Language

By Lauren Collins

when in frenchCollins, a journalist from North Carolina, married a Frenchman named Olivier she met while working in London. They then moved to Geneva, a mutually unfamiliar place but one where French reigned. For the first time, she was forced to learn a new language to survive. I love how she blends her own story with the philosophy, history and science behind language use. As she learned how to do things she never expected to have to in French – deal with her in-laws and give birth, for instance – she developed a new appreciation for the marvel that is bilingualism and pondered whether she was the same person in a different language. My favorite section recounts a holiday to Corsica that brought her family and Olivier’s into close quarters and cast her in the unforeseen role of translator. There’s a surprising amount of linguistic detail here, but Collins incorporates it well. Releases September 13th. 4 star rating


A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain

By Christina Crosby

body undoneCrosby teaches English and gender studies at Wesleyan University. Her inclusion in this “Sexual Cultures” series has to do with her lesbian feminist ideology but also the new understanding of her body an accident forced upon her at age 50. While she was cycling, a stick stuck in her spokes and she fell over onto concrete, breaking vertebrae in her neck that damaged her spinal cord. In the midst of a full and physical life, she became a quadriplegic. The great irony was that in this she joined her brother Jeff, whose MS had long since reduced him to a wheelchair. Here, in a memoir written 11 years after the accident, she reflects on chronic pain and new limitations – even including bowel habits – with blunt honesty as well as literary allusions. Along the way she remembers physical pleasures now denied to her. Nonetheless, she never comes across as sorry for herself. I found this to be highly absorbing. 4 star rating


The Reader on the 6.27

By Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

readerGuylain Vignolles works in a paper pulping plant. Rather than an enemy of books, however, he’s really a champion of the written word and its power to improve people’s lives. Every day when he descends into the belly of “The Thing” to clean it, he rescues the stray pages that escaped destruction and reads them aloud the following morning on his twenty-minute train commute, or to the residents of an old-folks home, no matter what their subject. He also helps his disabled former colleague Giuseppe stockpile all the books made from the recycled paper created on the fateful day the machine shredded his legs. There’s a charming Amélie vibe to this short novel, especially in the later chapters when Guylain sets off on a romantic quest to find the lavatory attendant whose wry diary he finds on a memory stick on the train. Most of the subplots could do with some expanding, but it’s a pleasant and super-quick read. 3.5 star rating


Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home

By Jessica Fechtor

stirFor me this is right up there with Molly Wizenberg and Ruth Reichl in how the author merges food writing with a frank recounting of personal experiences with crisis and heartache. At age 28 Fechtor, then a graduate student in history and Yiddish, collapsed on a treadmill with a brain bleed. Surgery to clip the aneurysm left her blind in one eye. During her long recovery process she started a food blog. At the end of each chapter she shares recipes that alternate between simple, favorite dishes and more involved ones. It’s that unpretentiousness that really endears her to me. She doesn’t think she was particularly brave in getting through an unwanted illness; nor does she think the perfect almond macaroon or cherry clafoutis is beyond anyone’s capability. Instead, she gives a glimpse into an ordinary life turned upside down and the foods that helped her regain a zest for life. 4.5 star rating

Have you read any of these? Which one takes your fancy?

7 responses

  1. I added a couple of these to my Goodreads list. Thanks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can manage to read on the cross trainer? I tried it once but the Kindle kept slipping to one side so I ended up craning my neck …..


    1. Yes, I made myself a very low-tech ‘shelf’ out of a piece of folded cardboard! That manages to keep it in place despite me jabbing at it to turn pages.


  3. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    A very interesting collection of topics in the five selections. I’d love to join you for the blueberry pancakes.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ack! All of these sound good – I might have to add them all to my list!
    I especially like the sound of Stir, and The Body Undone. It sounds like neither of them are harping on their misfortunes, but just sharing their experiences.
    I’ve also always wondered what it would be like to be forced to learn another language. I don’t think I’d be good at it, and think I would find it really frustrating. (My children are already bilingual, because we sent them to a French school – I admit that I’m envious of my own children. Ha!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did wonder, even though you don’t live in the French-speaking part of Canada, whether Canadians in general are more likely to be bilingual. Those immersion programs for kids are a great idea. i wish I’d started French earlier and stuck with it even after university. I can get by in a French-speaking country (Belgium a couple months ago), but I have no semblance of fluency.

      I read a ton of medical or bereavement memoirs. I’d agree with that assessment: these are two where they manage to just state their experiences and limitations but don’t wallow in self-pity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a lot of bilingual Canadians. Where and when I grew up, though, I missed the boat. Most places now have French Immersion programs, but our kids go to the Acadian French school, which is a whole separate school board. The French speaking communities around here are Acadian.
        I was hoping I would learn from my kids, but they have no interest in teaching me. They do, however, like to laugh at my efforts when I do try to speak French. Sigh. I have picked up quite a lot, though, just because all the correspondence from the school is in French. My reading is pretty good, but my oral abilities are awful.


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