20 Books of Summer 2020 (Food & Drink Theme): #1 Tiny Moons

It’s my third year participating in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer challenge. Two years ago I read only books by women; last year I did an animal theme. This year, my 20 books will all tie into a food and drink theme. This includes recognizable foodie lit, memoirs and travel books that have a food element (such as Dave Gorman seeking out non-chain restaurants in America Unchained and Alice Steinbach taking French cooking lessons in Educating Alice), and fiction or nonfiction works that just happen to have a food word in the title. To avoid being grisly, I’ll try not to include any animal books left over from last year!

I have around 30 books to choose from, including these slightly cheaty selections whose authors’ names bring food to mind.

The one constant in my three summers’ selections is that all the books have to be from my own shelves – it’s my way of trying to tackle my hundreds-strong physical TBR. I also have a few classics and two rereads (Dunn and Kingsolver) in the mix here, which would contribute to other ongoing reading goals.


I’m kicking off #20BooksofSummer20 with a quick win, only 85 pages long and read in a single sitting this morning. It was a great start to the project and had my mouth watering for elevenses two hours early…

 

Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai by Nina Mingya Powles (2020)

This lovely pamphlet of food-themed essays arose from a blog Powles kept while in Shanghai on a one-year scholarship to learn Mandarin. She’d lived in the city as a teen, attending an international high school, so it was somewhat familiar – yet she struggled with homesickness. From one winter to another, she explores the city’s culinary offerings and muses on the ways in which food is bound up with her memories of people and places.

As a child in a mixed-race household in New Zealand, she only knew food words in her Malaysian Chinese mother’s native languages. “My earliest childhood impressions are ones where I am just about to eat something,” she writes. That something might have been Western or Asian food – they coexist in the book (most delightfully on a long-distance train ride she takes: you can buy noodles and dried chicken feet, but also Oreos and Pringles).

As a student in Shanghai, she has dumplings and soup for lunch almost every day. She could live off of spring onion oil noodles and pineapple buns (named for their cross-hatched top rather than their flavour). Messy foods, greasy foods, comfort foods – “It is tiring to be a woman who loves to eat in a society where hunger is something not to be satisfied but controlled.” She and her classmates know that their time here is limited, and they’re going to make the most of these flavours you can’t find every day.

Two sets of cooking lessons add dishes like sticky rice dumplings and stir-fried aubergines to her repertoire. She learns about the traditional foods associated with Chinese festivals, and about the country’s north/south divides: wheat noodles versus rice and thick-skinned dumplings versus thin ones. Street food and snacks abound, including savoury and sweet buns, filled pancakes, tofu bowls and mooncakes.

This is a book about how food can help you be at home, despite loneliness or a language barrier: “In any city anywhere, if there’s a Chinatown I’ll feel at home,” Powles concludes. I love how she uses the senses – not just taste, but also smell and sight – to recreate important places in her life. A fresh banana fritter eaten at her grandparents’ home in Borneo brings it all back, with the senses mingling synaesthetically: “I taste tropical heat. I can taste the slow hours spent in the back garden beneath the mango tree … I taste the fierce sun on my neck”.

My rating:


Readalikes: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop & Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan by Jessica J. Lee

Note: Last year Nina Mingya Powles won the inaugural Nan Shepherd Prize for underrepresented voices in nature writing, earning a publishing contract with Canongate for a nature/travel memoir that will be released in August 2021. I’m looking forward to it already.

Tiny Moons was published on February 27th. My thanks to Emma Dai’an Wright of The Emma Press, a small press based in Birmingham, UK, for the free copy for review. (Emma also illustrated the book!)

 

Are you joining in the summer reading challenge? What’s the first book on the docket?

Do you spy any favorites on my piles? Which ones should I be sure to read?

27 responses

  1. I am so looking forward to hearing about your reads Rebecca – I have one foodie book on my list, Michael Pollen’s Cooked – and out of your books I’ve only read Heat by Bill Buford, which I loved. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is, I think, the only one of Pollan’s books that I *haven’t* read yet, so I’ll be interested to see what you think. Bourdain and Buford are classics that I have never gotten to, so I’m going to prioritize them.

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      1. Ah I hadn’t spotted the Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential is a brilliant read. Enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. P.S. I’m #110 on the sign-up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh I haven’t read any of these – apart from Cider with Rosie, which I think we did as a set book at school! I look forward to hearing about all of the ones you choose. It’s a brilliant theme and one I might appropriate for myself for 2021; I love having a focus and finding books on my shelves that fit it.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you like the theme; do feel free to adopt it next time. I’m picking up Cider with Rosie (which I actually started last year but have left half-finished for ages) next.

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  3. I went through a huge foodie fiction/ memoir phase a few years ago (and then took a break) – the Bourdain is terrific (although I love all of his books). I’ll look forward to your review of My Berlin Kitchen – have had it in my TBR stack for a while but never got to it before my interest in the genre started to cool (but it’s Berlin, so….).

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    1. I read a lot of foodoirs in 2012 and 2015-16, but it’s only been one or two per year otherwise. I fancied a binge! (In all honesty, only about 8-10 of these potential reads have much to do with food. The others just happen to have a food word in the title, or the author’s name. But it was a fun way to narrow down the books from my shelves.)

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  4. Kitchen Confidential made me very wary of breakfast buffets although I suspect they’re a thing of the past for quite some time. Looking forward to your reviews, Rebecca.

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    1. Interesting … I’ve had some dreadful ones in American hotels! But nowadays we tend to go for Airbnbs, so we mostly do our own catering. I’ve meant to read Bourdain for ages. My dad isn’t a reader yet used to have all his books (drawn in by the TV programmes).

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  5. Fun! Reading through that list, I think I might gain 10 pounds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chowder and cheese, followed by cakes and ale? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And dumplings to mix things up!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Tiny Moons really had me craving dumplings!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve only read the Bourdains from your stacks, although Master and Margarita is on my Classics Club list so I’ll be interested in what you think! This is a fun way to frame the challenge.

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    1. I think the Bulgakov is about an evil cat rather than the drink 😉 But should be fun either way! Classics always take a little bit more effort to pick up, but I will try to get to it this summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Apologies to the lady concerned – but with her so unusual forename you have to read the book by Apricot Irving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an amazing name, I agree! It’s about growing up the daughter of missionaries in Haiti, so it ties in with my interest in women’s religious memoirs.

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  8. Your themes are so clever, Rebecca! I’m chuckling over the Pears and Oates and Apricots!

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    1. They may be cheats, but I’ll try anything to con myself into reading my own books 😉

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  9. buriedinprint | Reply

    What fun! I especially love the cheater-options. And what is the dark book with tiny gold title in the RH stack? Ella Minnow Pea is wonderful (that’s a reread for you?) and I also loved loved loved My Year of Meats. She was actually one of my first MRE (must-read-everything) authors. But I read it when it was new and I do recall that it was more straightforward than Tale For the Time Being so maybe I’d feel a little differently now that I’ve read so many great stories by women. I’ve not joined the challenge because my computer time during the summer is almost exclusively work-related but I do have a special sense of summer reading and I enjoy reading about other people’s summer project even more than usual. Especially the big stacks of words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That, ahem, was a Wodehouse I quickly returned to the Little Free Library after not enjoying my first experience of him as much as expected. (Love among the Chickens / Eggs, Beans and Crumpets omnibus.) I’m very excited about the Ozeki, and the Dunn reread for when I need some belly laughs.

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  10. Nice piles, and yay Emma Press! I love My Year of Meats and would like to re-read it at some point. Enjoy your 20 and well done on the quick win (I finished something completely else first but have two of mine on the go now).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A local press for you! I’ve not read anything of Ozeki’s besides A Tale for the Time Being, so I’m looking forward to this one and will definitely endeavour to read it for the summer challenge.

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      1. Yes, I loved their book about women of Birmingham!

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  11. I LOVE this idea of the summer reading challenge. I’m going to try and corral my reading like that this summer although this year probably might not have a fixed theme. Read Bill Buford’s Dirt and really loved it!

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    1. Hi, Poornima! Thanks for stopping by. I’m excited to try the Buford. This was a book my dad passed along to me. I’ve been requesting and reading far fewer new releases this year, focusing on backlist stuff and my own shelves. It’s been rewarding.

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