Two for #NovNov22 and #NonFicNov: Recipe and Shameless

Contrary to my usual habit of leaving new books on the shelf for years before actually reading them, these two are ones I just got as birthday gifts last month. They were great choices from my wish list from my best friend and reflect our mutual interests (foodie lit) and experiences (ex-Evangelicals raised in the Church).


Recipe by Lynn Z. Bloom (2022)

This is part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series of short nonfiction works (I’ve only read a few of the other releases, but I’d also recommend Fat by Hanne Blank). Bloom, an esteemed academic based in Connecticut, envisions a recipe as being like a jazz piece: it arises from a clear tradition, yet offers a lot of scope for creativity and improvisation.

A recipe is a paradoxical construct, a set of directions that specify precision but—baking excepted—anticipate latitude. A recipe is an introduction to the logic of a dish, a scaffold bringing order to the often casual process of making it.

A recipe supplies the bridge between hope and fulfilment, for a recipe offers innumerable opportunities to review, revise, adapt, and improve, to make the dish the cook’s and eater’s own.

She considers the typical recipe template, the spread of international dishes, how particular chefs incorporate stories in their cookbooks, and the role that food plays in celebrations. To illustrate her points, she traces patterns via various go-to recipes: for chicken noodle soup, crepes, green salad, mac and cheese, porridge, and melting-middle chocolate pots.

I most enjoyed the sections on comfort food (“a platterful of stability in a turbulent, ever-changing world beset by traumas and tribulations”) and Thanksgiving – coming up on Thursday for Americans. Best piece of trivia: in 1909, President Taft, known for being a big guy, served a 26-pound opossum as well as a 30-pound turkey for the White House holiday dinner. (Who knew possums came that big?!)

Bloom also has a social conscience: in Chapters 5 and 6, she writes about the issues of food insecurity, and child labour in the chocolate production process. As important as these are to draw attention to, it did feel like these sections take away from the main focus of the book. Recipe also feels like it was hurriedly put together – with more typos than I’m used to seeing in a published work. Still, it was an engaging read. [136 pages]


Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber (2019)

“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” ~Anaïs Nin

Bolz-Weber, founding Lutheran pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, was a mainstay on the speaker programme at Greenbelt Festival in the years I attended. Her main arguments here: people matter more than doctrines, sex (like alcohol, food, work, and anything else that can become the object of addiction) is morally neutral, and Evangelical/Religious Right teachings on sexuality are not biblical.

She believes that purity culture – familiar to any Church kid of my era – did a whole generation a disservice; that teaching young people to view sex as amazing-but-deadly unless you’re a) cis-het and b) married led instead to “a culture of secrecy, hypocrisy, and double standards.”

Purity most often leads to pride or to despair, not to holiness. … Holiness happens when we are integrated as physical, spiritual, sexual, emotional, and political beings.

A number of chapters are built around anecdotes about her parishioners, many of them queer or trans, and about her own life. “The Rocking Chair” is an excellent essay about her experience of pregnancy and parenthood, which includes having an abortion at age 24 before later becoming a mother of two. She knows she would have loved that baby, yet she doesn’t regret her choice at all. She was not ready.

This chapter is followed by an explanation of how abortion became the issue for the political right wing in the USA. Spoiler alert: it had nothing to do with morality; it was all about increasing the voter base. In most Judeo-Christian theology prior to the 1970s, by contrast, it was believed that life started with breath (i.e., at birth, rather than at conception, as the pro-life lobby contends). In other between-chapter asides, she retells the Creation story and proffers an alternative to the Nashville Statement on marriage and gender roles.

Bolz-Weber is a real badass, but it’s not just bravado: she has the scriptures to back it all up. This was a beautiful and freeing book. [198 pages]


14 responses

  1. That second one sounds like an amazing resource for people who’ve been through that generation of teaching. Do you think it’s likely to be able to reach the right people?

    I’ve just been given a copy of Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” so hoping I’ll have some NovNov time this week … !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think people who are resentful towards or dubious about their religious upbringing start looking around for more progressive thinkers, and Bolz-Weber would be a great one for them to read. Others who helped me include Marcus Borg, Anne Lamott, Brian McLaren and Barbara Brown Taylor.

      Ah, I hope you enjoy the Keegan. I read it late last year. My book club chose it for our December meet-up and I may try to reread it before then. An easy one-sitter if that’s what you choose to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Two for Novellas in November: Recipe and Shameless – Rebecca at Bookish Beck […]


  3. I love Shameless. Went to Bolz-Weber’s event at Southwark Cathedral when it came out, and it was so moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fantastic! I’d only read her Accidental Saints before. She’s a whole different face to Christianity for people who have only ever known prim vicars or TV evangelists.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Shameless sounds interesting. I wasn’t brought up in a religious family, but I do feel that the significance of sex/losing your virginity was so dominant when I was a teenager, and there were very mixed messages about ‘saying no to boys’ vs ‘you need to have sex to be a grown-up’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, virginity is a big thing across religions and in culture in general. Hanne Blank’s “Virgin” is very good on how the concept has been defined over the centuries. Bolz-Weber quotes statistics that show that there are higher teen pregnancy rates in places in the USA with abstinence-only teaching. She also argues that the inclusion of a book of the Bible that (before it was allegorized by male theologians!) is all about female desire, the Song of Songs, is proof of what God / the early Church valued.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Both of those sound really interesting. After a discussion about religious upbringing, my book club decided to read Cultish by Amanda Montell, about the use of language to create a feeling of belonging, used by religions and marketing alike (e.g. Peloton and CrossFit). Can’t wait! As for the abortion issue, I heard a podcast with a fascinating origin story for the change in attitude towards abortion in the US, triggered by a campaign by an American televangelist, whose son persuaded him to campaign against Roe v. Wade because he’d just become a father having got his girlfriend pregnant. This was on Jon Ronson’s Things Fall Apart podcast. The book you read sounds like it would give a more rounded picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love reading about cults of all kinds.

      Many Christians assume that abortion has always been a key, black-and-white issue, but really it’s not even been so for 50 years.


  6. Writing about recipes is an interesting idea. I do often wonder if anyone actually reads all the stuff leading up to the actual recipe. I’m sure it’s fun to read, but I don’t have time!

    I’m sure many of us wish Shameless had been around when we were teens!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have found a handful of cookbooks (and/or memoirs with recipes) where the entire text is worth reading, even if the recipes are what you come back to.

      Bolz-Weber acknowledges how difficult it was for her to talk to her own kids about sex, but there are surely better methods than avoiding the subject entirely or pretending they’re not having or going to have sex.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It wasn’t the easiest thing I ever did, but I did it. I didn’t want them to be as clueless as I had been. Hopefully someday they’ll appreciate it. lol


  7. Wow, these both sound so good! I’ve always been nervous to deviate from recipes, but have recently started trying to recreate Hello Fresh and Blue Apron recipes with my own ingredients. That’s necessitated a certain amount of guesswork and made want to get more confident riffing on recipes in the kitchen. I’m also very interested in a different perspective on Christianity than the one currently being sold by right wing politicians. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being religious myself, but I’d like to have a more thorough and compassionate understanding of people who are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a cook (my husband does all the cooking for us), but I enjoy reading about food. I think it’s a matter of practice and confidence. My husband mostly cooks by instinct now, only looking at recipes for inspiration rather than instructions.

      There are lots of progressive theologians out there these days who push back against that right wing. I hope their voices can be heard.


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