The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
Every year, we start January with a few picks of great books to really dig into after the relatives have left. While Covid again changed the hustle and bustle of the holidays for many, we still hope January offers some quiet time to sit and really enjoy a very good book. To help you do this, we once again offer a selection of three books (fiction, memoir/cooking, and kids) to read after the relatives have left. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
SIDE NOTE from Lisa Christie: I am thrilled by the book Lisa Cadow chose to review today. It totally made my day to read how much she enjoyed this gift Christmas gift from me. I share this merely to remind you that January can be bleak; we've heard calls to divorce lawyers and therapist have increased dramatically of late. So, maybe we can all remember that giving the gift of a good book can elevate your mood just as much as the recipient's; and you can support a local indie bookstore at the same time -- further spreading the joy of just one gifted book.
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (2021). If you've been missing gathering around the table with family and friends during the pandemic as much as I have, here is an antidote: sit down with actor, writer, and director Stanley Tucci's new memoir Taste to evoke those special feelings of camaraderie. Tucci's new book takes the reader back to a childhood spent in 1960's in Westchester surrounded by Italian relatives who bottled their own wine from oak casks in the basement and roasted goats in their backyard, through a lifetime of cooking with friends (often famous) and visiting restaurants across the globe, then all the way back to present-day London where much of his time, when he's not filming on location, is spent shopping and cooking classics like Spaghetti Carbonara for his children and wife. Tucci is an energetic, hilarious, and creative writer who tells a great story and shares wit as well as wisdom. Parts of his book are written like pages torn from a movie script full of dialogue and direction, which makes sense, given that he's spent his entire adult life acting from and even composing scripts. (Some may not realize that Tucci was not only one of the actors in the cult classic 1996 film "Big Night" about two brothers struggling to save an Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore, but he was also a coauthor.) An unexpectedly poignant part of the memoir chronicles his recent treatment for and recovery from oral cancer, which only served to deepen his already very serious relationship with food. As he explains, "I must say that years ago I never thought that my passion and interest in food would come close to eclipsing how I felt about my chosen profession. Acting, directing, cinema, and the theater had always defined me. But after my diagnosis I discovered that eating, drinking, the kitchen, and the table now play those roles. Food not only feeds me, it enriches me. All of me. Mind, body, and soul. It is nothing more than everything. Cook Smell. Taste Eat Drink Share. Repeat as necessary." Turning the last page of Taste I yearned for just one more bite, one more laugh, one more chapter, and a little more time in Tucci's brilliant company. I'll have to make due with the smattering of simple recipes from the book that I plan to try and the slab of Kerrygold butter that now sits on our kitchen counter after learning that it's what the Tucci family enjoys with their bread. This is the perfect read to fill yourself up with after the relatives have left. ~Lisa Cadow
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (2021). I still remember how I felt while reading Ms. Shipstead's Seating Arrangements years ago - completely entertained by what most would consider a 'beach read" and also caring about the fates of the characters inhabiting her imagined New England Island as a high society wedding unfolded. This time, with the impressively sweeping novel Great Circle, I cared about the the fates of her two major characters -- Marian, a girl determined to be an aviator in prohibition-era Montana, and Hadley, a "Twilight-like" movie star in the process of self destructing over her romantic and social media choices. The link between the two? Hadley's selection to play Marian in a biopic picture years after Marian's plane disappears into the ocean. I also cared about the secondary characters: Jamie - Marian's twin a talented painter, Caleb, Jamie's and Marian's wild childhood friend, Hadley's eminent neighbor Sir Hugo, and Wallace, their drunken well intentioned, talented artist uncle who took Marian and Jamie in after their father was jailed for abandoning his duty as captain of a sinking ship in order to rescue them. (Their mother's death from suicide, seen in retrospect, induced by post-partum depression, plays a role throughout this tale.)
That is a lot to tackle and it is all laid out for readers in the first 100 pages, allowing the next 400 pages to pull readers along while revealing the unique fates of each character. Even so, it's still a lot to take in, so don't worry if you are not always on task, keep going and let her re-engage you with compelling characters, plot twists, and oodles of research. When completed, readers are left with with a sweeping saga of life in the USA during the 20th century, and/or a great distraction from the quiet after the relatives have left.
NOTE: Throughout Great Circle, I felt a longing to re-read Beryl Markham's terrific memoir West with the Night, and hope I make time to do so. If you have not yet read West with the Night -- please do so; you will not regret it. You might also wish to try Seating Arrangements for a shorter and completely different take of Ms. Shipstead's gifted writing. ~ Lisa Christie
Black Boy Joy by assorted authors and edited by Kwame Mbalia (2021). This collection of 17 short stories about black boys in the USA provides the perfect book to pick up if your attention span just can't handle a saga. I truly loved my time with the boys in these pieces as they imagined traveling outer space, participated in cooking contests, and debated the best super hero ever. Because 17 authors weigh in during this collection, there is lovely variety in tone and style: some are funny, some are happy-sad, all are compelling. The shorter length of the stories makes them ideal for discussion - teachers everywhere take note. For everyone -- the boys' joy is contagious. As Booklist said in their review -- "Pick up Black Boy Joy for a heavy dose of happiness." NOTE: I listened to this via audiobooks, and it was a superb way to spend time commuting to high school hockey games. ~ Lisa Christie