The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue

Book cover: The Tastemakers by David SaxDuring 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.

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God Help the Child

Book cover: God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonLet me just preface this by saying that I am a legit Morrison stan. (For real: I met her in New York years ago with two other Morrison stans I’d just met. We were geeking out and she laughed at us and said, “Y’all are crazy.” Best moment ever.) I was so, so, so excited when I heard that she was releasing God Help the Child, her latest novel. I pre-ordered the book months ahead of time. I love her. She kind of reminds me of my grandma.

So I feel terrible for saying this, but y’all: this book is a hot mess.

God Help the Child is about childhood trauma and how it can shape a person’s life. It’s told from different perspectives, but at the center of it all is a woman named Bride. She’s been paying for the sin of being born with blue-black skin her entire life: both of her parents have lighter skin, and Bride’s father left shortly after Bride was born, convinced his wife had cheated on him. Her mother resented her and always treated her harshly, trying to toughen Bride up for a world that was sure to be unkind to her. (In the book’s opening, her mother even admits, “I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace.”) Bride grew up desperately wanting her mother’s love, and although she’s now a successful, beautiful woman who has found a way to use her skin color to her advantage, she’s haunted by something she did as a child in her need for her mother’s affection.

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Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation

If you say, I think the occupation of Palestine is fucked up on forty different levels, people are like, you’re the devil, we’re going to get your tenure taken away, we’re going to destroy you. You can say almost anything else. You could be like, “I eat humans,” and they’ll be like bien, bien.

– Junot Díaz

Book cover: Letters to Palestine edited by Vijay PrashadIn the summer of 2014, Israel bombed Gaza for seven weeks during a campaign called Operation Protective Edge. Gaza, which had long been in a vulnerable state, suffered devastating losses; over two thousand people died and over half a million people were displaced. Historically, Israel’s assaults on Palestinians (and the US’s complicity in these assaults) have been largely ignored; there’s an occasional tsk tsk, but most turn a blind eye or think of the violence as part of some ancient Jewish-Palestinian feud that’s just too complicated to be worked out. It isn’t. And as Israel’s violence towards Gaza escalated in 2014, those images made their way around the world on news networks and social media. More started to take notice, and for once, those voices of dissent weren’t being automatically dismissed anti-Semitic.

Letters to Palestine is a collection of essays and poetry edited by Vijay Prashad. Its twenty-eight contributors, many of whom are Palestinian, include novelists, poets, scholars, and activists. The book is separated into three themes: Conditions, War Reports, and Politics. There’s quite a diverse selection of topics within each section, and the voices span a range of emotions — anger, pride, and solidarity, to name a few. Letters to Palestine is, as Prashad writes in his introduction, a book of documents:

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Quickies: Lucky Alan & Sex Criminals Vol. 1

Lucky Alan and Other StoriesBook cover: Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem by Jonathan Lethem

Publisher/Year: Doubleday, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 157
Source: Publisher

What it is: A slim collection of quirky short stories.

Why I read it: I like short stories, and I also had the pleasure of hearing Lethem at a Literary Death Match a couple of years ago when he was promoting Dissident Gardens.

What I thought: This was actually my first time reading Lethem’s work. I usually love stories with surreal elements. I can see the appeal, and I love his writing style, but most of the stories in this collection just didn’t do it for me. My favorites were probably the title story, and “The King of Sentences,” about an author’s superfans who take things too far. Other stories, like “Pending Vegan,” had elements that I loved, but some stories were a chore to read and most were simply forgettable.


Sex Criminals: Vol 1Sex Criminals Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction (Author) & Chip Zdarsky (Artist)

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
Source: Library

What it is: Suzie has a strange gift: she stops time whenever she has sex. When she hooks up with Jon after a party, they’re both in for a shock: both of them are still moving around post-climax. It turns out Jon has the same supernatural abilities as Suzie, but neither had ever met anyone like themselves before. And what’s a young time-stopping couple to do with this amazing gift of theirs? Rob banks, of course!

Why I read it: It sounded awesome.

What I thought: It was awesome, duh. I realize it’s not a book for everyone, but I loved the humor and the gorgeous artwork (check out some images after the jump) and the fact that there are Sex Police who smack people with dildos. Yeah. It’s that kind of story. Some of it’s a little hokey, but that just adds to the book’s charm. I kind of felt like a pervert requesting it at the library, but it was worth it.

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Where Women Are Kings

Book cover: Where Women Are Kings by Christie WatsonElijah is a Nigerian boy who has experienced much trauma in his seven years. He longs for his mother, a Nigerian immigrant living in England whom he understands — at a very basic level — is ill, but has been bounced different foster homes; his sometimes extreme episodes have made him difficult to place.

With Nikki, a white woman, and Obi, a Nigerian, things might be different. The two have tried for years to carry a pregnancy to term and are now ready to adopt a child as their own. They instantly fall in love with Elijah, a quiet child with dozens of scars all over his body. To their delight, Elijah warms to them as well, forming a particular bond with in his new Nigerian grandfather.

No one knows the true extent of Elijah’s trauma. His past emerges in bits in pieces, sometimes through his own perspective and sometimes through letters from his mother, whom readers know was legally placed in psychiatric care and is now at a mental health facility. Her letters are not coming to Elijah because of their graphic nature, and Elijah has repressed a lot of the memories; he can’t cope whenever the subject is broached. All readers do know is that he believes a wicked wizard lives inside him, threatening to hurt everyone he loves. He tries to keep his mouth closed so that wizard will not escape and do harm.

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