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Book Review – Consider the Fork

considerConsider the Fork — Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork is a history about cooking and eating and everything else food-related. It describes not only how a refrigerator works but also every failure and minor success along the way, as well as how refrigeration changed cooking, and why it took the French so much longer to adopt  than it did Americans. Bee Wilson doesn’t restrict her book to the realm of large appliances, however. In fact she explains how some simple devices, like the wooden spoon, have remained basically unchanged for centuries, while others, such as the vegetable peeler, weren’t perfected until very recently. And most interesting, for any homer baker, is the story of why Americans are just about the only people on earth dumb enough to measure flour by volume instead of weight. For anyone who loves to cook, loves to eat, and loves history about cooking and eating, Consider the Fork will have you considering forks, stoves, and everything in-between.

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Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

constellationA Constellation of Vital Phenomena — Anthony Marra

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I rarely regret my choice of foregoing print. But I’ve learned over my years of listening that certain books work better than others. Anything written in first person works well because if I briefly lose focus, I still know who’s talking to me. For the same reason, I love biographical audiobooks. I struggle most often with titles that feature too many characters and/or names that are derived from other languages, whether foreign or fantastical. I gave up on Dune within the first few minutes, during which the narrator spews forth a great deluge of made-up words passing themselves off as proper nouns. After watching the first season of Game of Thrones and then reading the book, I regrettably decided to listen to the second volume in the series. A Clash of Kings violates both of my audiobook rules. Not only does the book contain approximately twenty-five thousand unique characters, but most of them own names that exist only in fantasy literature. The two major exceptions are Sansa, which is the name of an MP3 player manufactured by SanDisk, and Bran, which is, of course, the name of a muffin.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena does not have too many characters. And the names are not uncommon on planet Earth. The problem is that many of the names are uncommon within the section of planet Earth that I call home. The story takes place in Chechnya, and I had trouble keeping track of the Eastern European names. They’re not that unusual, but they were just unusual enough to trip up my English-listening ears.  In addition, the story moves around in time. The book provides helpful markers at the start of each chapter, but as I could not flip back and forth to keep track of said markers and flashbacks occurred during all points of the space-time continuum, I was adrift in a sea of years. And as soon as that happened, I lost attention. And as soon as that happened, I regretted choosing to listen to an audiobook. It’s a shame in this case because Anthony Marra’s book is an excellent novel. It’s intricate and beautiful, right up to and including a nearly perfect ending. I just wish I had experienced the words on the page instead of bouncing around inside my mostly empty and easily distracted head. However, if you stay within HPL’s ecosystem, you won’t have a choice, as we only offer the book and the eBook. Lucky you.


New Fiction

Book Review – Wave

waveWave — Sonali Deraniyagala

I’ve read a few memoirs about loss, but Wave easily takes the cake, if cake were appropriate in such circumstances. Sure, death is a part of life, and writers can occasionally craft an amazing narrative out of death. However, Sonali Deraniyagala, during the horrific tsunami of December 2004, lost her husband, both her parents, and her two sons. The degree of this personal tragedy is unfathomable for most people. What makes Wave incredible, despite its difficult subject matter, is that the tragedy is unfathomable for the author as well. She doesn’t say that everything happens for a reason. She doesn’t feel thankful that’s she’s been put through an ordeal and that’s she’s grown stronger because of it. Instead, she’s angry, suicidal, and depressed. She feels jealousy toward other families that have fared better. She struggles, as one would expect, and she continues to struggle, year after year. Nothing is glossed over, and because of this brutal honesty, Wave is a remarkable work and a beautifully written, if harrowing, exploration of profound loss. The audiobook is available through ListenAlaska.

New Nonfiction