Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hunger Reads

I have not been keeping up with my reading much the last week or so and have been going to old, comfort reads such as The Thornbirds, so a new review will come once I get back into new reads. In the meantime, here are some books that comfort me and, in turn, make me crave a specific comfort food.

Craving for books = the foods I crave
1.)    James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl = Peaches
This one I read back when I was about 8 years old and the description of the peach, living inside of it and drinking from it was so glorious when I was a wet kid reading this at the pool. “The walls were wet and sticky, and peach juice was dripping from the ceiling. James opened his mouth and caught some of it on his tongue. It tasted delicious.” Salivating over this book was the only distraction as I read this one.  Note: And yes, I could have mentioned Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, but I liked James and the Giant Peach more.
2.)    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins = Roasted Pig, Hot Chocolate and Raisin-Nut Bread
Obviously, hunger is a major theme in this book and the concoctions of rich, custard-filled foods can make your tummy rumble but my cravings for honey-glazed ham grew quite strong while Katniss shocked the Gamemakers by spearing the roast pig during her private session. Similarly, the Capital-grade hot chocolate on the train had me licking my lips in the kitchen, cooking up some instant cocoa (which sucks in comparison). And who can forget the life-saving, burnt raisin and nut bread that Peeta drops for Katniss behind the bakery?
3.)    The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan = Chinese food
This one might be obvious but the food brings these generations of immigrant families together every week, along with the love of the game, Mahjong. These grown women and their aging mothers not only share food but also their stories of loss, hope, fear and survival. Jing-mei says that Chinese mothers show love “not through hugs and kisses but with stern offerings of steamed dumplings, duck’s gizzards, and crab.” I could forgo the duck’s gizzards but some Hunan Shrimp does the trick.
4.)    To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee = Ham and Syrup    
One of my favorite books ever, two kids grow up in the Deep South during the 30s, with the ten-year-old girl, Scout, as the narrator. The father and hero of the story is the compassionate lawyer, Atticus Finch. Obviously, the integrity of this novel feeds the soul more than it does the stomach but I can’t help but get a hankering for maple syrup when Walter Cunningham (a rival of Scout’s who regularly eats possum and squirrel at his parents' home) comes for dinner at the family table per Jem’s invitation. To Scout’s horror, Walter asks Calpurnia for the syrup and then proceeds to pour molasses over his meat and veggies, which leads to Scout askin’ the question, “What in Sam hill are you doing?” Scout also takes up swearing a little later in the book and decides that using it at the dinner table will certainly get noticed as she requests Atticus to “pass the damn ham, please.” This small town and its belly of characters keeps me investing in smoked ham for lunches and syrup for breakfasts. There's also Scout's school play where she is dressed up like a ham stumbling around the night Jem is attacked.
5.)    Wild by Cheryl Strayer = Snapple Pink Lemonade
This young woman is a little nutty as she goes from shooting up heroin and sleeping with a ton of men to the massive feat of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. 1100 miles of trudging through the mountains, camping with snakes and bears, having to use iodine tablets for drinking water and eating only meals that fit into a backpack she calls “Monster”, this woman is exhausted, often dehydrated, always hungry and hiking through the elements upwards of 20 miles a day. She only has a few dollar bills in her pocket when she arrives at some local stop but her saving grace is a Snapple Pink Lemonade. Her joy at chugging this thirst quenching, iodine-free hydration gives her the kind of power in the similar fashion of Popeye and his spinach. I started drinking lemonade more frequently while reading this book and suffered a few sugar highs. Cheryl Strayed says about the mentions of Snapple Pink Lemonade, “As you know, I was obsessing about Snapple lemonade, and it wasn't like I got off the PCT and then I was drinking Snapple Lemonade every day. But over the years I continued to occasionally have a Snapple Lemonade and I always thought of how much I hungered for it on the PCT, but what's happening is all these people on my book tour are bringing me bottles of Snapple to my readings [laughs].”
6.)    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte = Tea and Danish Cookies
Ah, a cold, rainy day, some Bronte and a cup of tea with a side of those yummy Danish cookies that come in the little tins. This is really the only way to read Bronte. Thrushcross Grange and the new tenant, the moors, the blinding cold, Heathcliff, Catherine… Thornfield Hall, the cold orphanage, the even colder Mr. Rochester and of course the chilling ex wife who heats things up by playing fire starter.
7.)    The Help by Kathryn Stockett = Fried Chicken (NOT chocolate pie)
 This book (and the film) is about as Southern as you can get, while creating a story about the segregation and demoralization of black maids in Mississippi during the early 60s. Even though the story centers around potties, this great read also gives me something else – a huge craving for Crisco-fried chicken (well, that and an uncontrollable desire to name my kid, Mae Mobley)! The part where Minny Jackson, Celia’s maid, teaches her how to fry chicken got me so tangled up in a craving that I put the book down for 15 minutes and went and got a bucket of KFC. To quote Miss Minny, “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.” Amen to that. Now, the chocolate pie? I’ll pass on that.
8.)    Heidi by Johanna Spyri = Goat’s Milk and Swiss Cheese 
It’s been 25 years, at least, since I read this Swiss work of fiction but I remember a couple of things. One, that it was a story set in the Swiss Alps (part of the reason for the Swiss cheese reference) and two, there was a sick little girl who was strengthened due to the consumption of goat’s milk. I remember Heidi, her grandfather, the secluded home, Peter and wheelchair-bound Klara. “The he brought her a large slice of bread and a piece of golden cheese…Heidi lifted the bowl with both hands and drank…’Was the milk nice?’ asked her grandfather. ‘I never drank any so good before,’ answered Heidi.”
9.)    Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss = Enough said.
Waffle House, here I come!
10.)  Black Boy by Richard Wright = Knowledge, understanding, love, education
One of the finest books about physical hunger and the yearning hunger for knowledge, Richard Wright pens his autobiography with such honesty and focus, relaying his experience as a neglected black child and later, a young man in the 1920s and the near starvation he faced throughout. He goes without food but cannot go without knowledge and the hunger has a new face in the books he reads continuously, sopping up every word and savoring them. “Hunger has always been more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly.” And “Reading was like a drug, a dope. The novels created moods in which I lived for days.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Book Thief

First, a note: I have no idea how I missed this book in the decades I have been reading but I am so glad to have found it and it is one of the top books I’ve read in my lifetime.

This is an amazing tale of a young girl, named Liesel, in a neighborhood filled with soccer, lots of kids, a best friend – Rudy, stirring up trouble, fistfights, summer misadventures. In the early parts, it is like To Kill a Mockingbird in a way – a seemingly idyllic neighborhood with the gathering of little things (a button, a pinecone), strange neighbors and their mysterious ways (the mayor’s wife) and a kind father encouraging his daughter to read and learn while trying to explain the world that crumbles around them. Of course, the setting is more dire in 1939 in a fictional town, Molching, Germany, where the foster father and his headstrong wife have not only taken the abandoned book thief in to their home but they have also hidden a Jewish fistfighter - Max, who becomes Leisel’s foster brother. The narrator’s identity is genius and I will leave it at that (although it took me half the book to figure out who it was; how I made it through four years of college English, I’ll never know) and although the narrator’s presence can be intrusive within the telling of the story, it’s also amazing and makes me want to read the book again (which I will at some point).

Intricate stories with a little humor but also a lot of despair and sadness, this novel is one of the best I have read about Nazi Germany aside from Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. This is one story I never wanted to end and so I took my time reading it. The hunger for books, knowledge, imagination, dreams and peace grabs the book thief’s spirit and won’t let go and it does the same for the reader. In the end, don’t be a “saumensch” and read this book – it will captivate you and change you.

Book Rating: AH! - Amazing, must-read book.