Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrator: Meryl Streep
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
What it is: Seven months pregnant, cookbook writer and food personality Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband has been having an affair with someone she knows. Meanwhile, her well-heeled friends spend their time planning events and gossiping about The Other Woman; they suspect she’s having an affair, but they can’t figure out with whom. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes for Rachel’s various comfort foods. Rachel just doesn’t know what to do: she wants to make things work with her husband, but she also wants him to drop dead. The book was originally published in 1983.
Why I listened to it: I was looking for a short, light-hearted audiobook. I’d been meaning to read this for a while now because it seems to be universally loved, and it didn’t hurt that Meryl Streep was the narrator (she also starred in the 1986 film adaptation).
What I thought: I think I might have to come to terms that I love Nora Ephron the screenwriter and director, but not Nora Ephron the author. Heartburn is indeed light and entertaining — I can see why people seem to love it so much, and there were moments that genuinely made me laugh — but it felt very one-note/stand-up comedy routine.
Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
Publisher/Year: Verso, 2015
What it is: A graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, who was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland. She was tiny (probably from malnourishment) and sickly (she would walk with a limp for her whole life), but by the age of fifteen, she was rabble rousing on behalf of the working class. She fought to be sent away to receive an education and grappled with Communism in a way that would make it accessible to the people. By her twenties, in a time when women still lacked any authority in important matters, Luxemburg had earned a PhD and made a name for herself in Germany as an important theorist, organizer, and writer whose ideas are still relevant to this day.
Why I read it: I love books on women’s history, and I loved that this one was presented as a graphic biography.
What I thought: First off, I commend Kate Evans for being able to work so much theory into the text in an accessible way! It was still a little clunky at times, but…have you ever read Marx? Overall, though, Evans did a wonderful job of showing Luxemburg as a person — someone with a fiery determination to make her ideas known, but also someone with a rich and fascinating private life. I’d never heard of Luxemburg before reading this, and I am grateful for the introduction.
You can view some of the artwork from the book after the jump. You can also read an excerpt at The Nation.
During Nonfiction November, I came across a recommendation of David Sax’s last book, The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue on Paper Breathers‘s blog. It had all the markers of something I thought I’d like, so I decided to listen to it on audiobook during a recent road trip. As I suspected, I ended up loving the book.
The Tastemakers explores food trends of the last few decades. David Sax begins the book by exploring the recent cupcake trend. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a cupcake store, even where I live in South Texas. Gone are the days of the humble cupcake. Gourmet cupcakes, cupcake bakeries, cupcake blogs, and cupcake cookbooks now abound, and we have Sex and the City to thank (see also: Manolo Blahniks, rabbit vibrators, and Cosmos). It’s an intriguing and accessible way to open the book; you’d have to be living under a rock to not know how popular cupcakes are.
Born into the lowest caste of her hive’s hierarchy, Flora 717 is destined to be a sanitation worker for her entire life, mindlessly tending to the dirty work assigned to her by the hive’s higher-ups. Everything in the hive is done to serve the queen, who is immortal and loves all of her children. Accept. Obey. Serve. Those are the mandates Flora must religiously follow.
It’s a fraught time for the hive; a strange sickness keeps appearing, and any bee determined to be unhealthy or useless is immediately put to death. This potentially spells danger for Flora: she’s certainly ugly like the other sanitation workers, but she looks different from everyone else. And there’s something even more dangerous about her: unlike the other sanitation workers, who cannot speak and mostly spend their lives with their minds dulled, Flora has the ability to speak and think for herself. She can also has the ability to produce Flow, the royal jelly used to feed babies in the nursery. It’s unheard of for a lowly sanitation worker.
Because of her unique abilities, The Sages (the hive’s high priestesses) allow Flora to move up in the ranks and work in the nursery. Later, because of her strength and intellect, she’s allowed to become a forager and leave the hive to collect pollen. As many bees never even see the outside of the hive in their lifetime, Flora’s experiences are unheard of. Yet since she’s so different, a lot of eyes are also on her and she must tread lightly; she harbors a secret that would mean certain death if discovered.
Confession: Up until now, I had never read a full-length vampire novel. I do, however, love a good vampire story. This summer, when I went to Europe, I was even going to make a trip out to Čachtice, Slovakia, where the ruins of the alleged real Dracula’s castle remain (FYI: Dracula was actually a sadistic woman/serial killer of noble blood who brutally tortured her servants before killing them). Unfortunately, my sprained ankles killed my plans for that hike, but I’ve remained in a Dracula mood ever since. Rather than read Bram Stoker’s classic in print, I listened to it all throughout October. There’s a full-cast production of the novel on Audible featuring Tim Curry(!) and Alan Cumming(!).
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going into this. My primary experience with pop-culture Dracula is the whole, “I vant to suck your blood,” thing. Stoker’s Dracula isn’t quite so open about it; nowhere in the book does that line appear. Instead, the book is told from different characters’ documents, letters, and diary entries (my heart sank over this at first — y’all know how I feel about epistolary novels — but it gets good fast, so I stopped caring). It begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who is sent to Transylvania to finalize the purchase of a home in London for a mysterious elderly man named Count Dracula. Despite all of the red flags of the townspeople who try to warn him away from going anywhere near Dracula’s castle, Jonathan proceeds as scheduled and soon finds himself a prisoner on the terrifying property.
Up until now, I was one of the few bookish people on earth who had never read anything by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor & Park and Fangirl have been on my to-read lists for what feels like an eternity. Then during Armchair BEA, I was fortunate enough to win the audiobook version of Rowell’s newest novel, Landline, narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Sorry Eleanor & Park and Fangirl…you’ve been bumped yet again!
Unlike those other two novels, Landline skews towards more adult territory. The narrator is Georgie McCool (that is her real name), a woman on the brink of professional success. She and her best friend Seth have finally sold their idea for a television show, but the network wants the pilot and first few scripts right after Christmas. This means that she won’t be able travel to Omaha as planned with her husband and two young daughters to visit her mother-in-law. For her husband, Neal, it’s the last straw. Their marriage has been on shakier ground than Georgie realized, and Neal takes the girls to his mother’s house for the holidays without Georgie.
It’s a terrible wake-up call to Georgie. Without her family around, she can’t seem to function. She finds herself going more and more to her mother’s house, sleeping in her old bedroom and dragging herself to work. While she’s there, constantly trying to get a hold of Neal, she discovers a secret about her old landline phone: it magically allows her to call back in time and talk to the Neal she dated in college.