Sunday, November 20, 2016

bonjour kale by Kristen Beddard

I was a bit skeptical when our book club chose a book about kale for its December read. I am not fond of kale, probably dating back to the summer when our CSA in Watertown only had kale to distribute because of  a horrible growing season. The book was available in the Kindle edition for a mere $1.99, so why not?

bonjour kale is a memoir, a collection of recipes, and a travelogue of Paris. Kristen Beddard, a native Pittsburgher, after college settles in New York City where she meets her husband, Phillip. Soon after they marry they move to Paris for his job. She is a "trailing spouse" and for the greater part of a year feels isolated and like a fish out of water. She describes their quest for an apartment, her many attempts to learn the language, and trying to make friends, as well as trying to fit into the culture. 

But the most disconcerting matter of the move was the absence of kale in the Parisian markets. Kristen's background was rooted in healthy foods and eating. One of the mainstays of her diet was kale and it didn't exist in France. And so began the Kale Project. It was her attempt to introduce the vegetable into the cuisine of the French. One of the issues she discovered was lack of a French word for the greens. In her quest she really couldn't even ask for it and have the market proprietors understand her. As she eventually allies herself with some farmers, the memoir details her mission to bring kale from farm to table. She ends each chapter with a recipe or two, which I can say that I will not try. I admire her tenacity in this undertaking, but I still can't bring myself to cook this green.

This was an easy, fun,  and interesting read. I enjoyed the smattering of French words, the descriptions of the markets, and the references to Pittsburgh. If anyone really likes kale, you would absolutely love this book.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On My Own by Diane Rehm

Diane Rehm certainly needs no introduction to NPR listeners. She had hosted a radio show since 1979 on WAMU. Her shows are political, social,  and powerful. In 2014 John, her husband of 54 years, passed away after starving himself to death. It was a passing of his choice to end his suffering from Parkinson's disease. 

On My Own recounts the year following John's death as Rehm tries to come to terms with having watched her husband suffer and her widowhood. The memoir is touching and poignant. You can almost hear her raspy voice telling her story. She describes how difficult it is to face the holidays without him and the loneliness of their condo. She confronts her guilt in not being able to take care of John in the final stages of his illness, as well as being able to help him carry out his wishes to die. Her comfort comes from Maxie, her dog. 

But more than anything On My Own, is a treatise that speaks loudly for death with dignity. She compares John's prolonged suffering with other friends, Roger Mudd's wife and best friend Janet Dixon,  who died suddenly. She writes“I rage at a system that would not allow John to be helped toward his own death. He was of rational mind, with no hope of recovery, knowing full well that the only way ahead was a slow downward slide, moving toward more incapacity and even greater indignity." 

Rehm indicates in her book that she will retire after the presidential election. It is almost certain that she will be using her voice to speak out for the right to die. On My Own is a short easy read, but it really is not easy to read. She will speak 14 November 2016 at the Pittsburgh Ten Literary Nights Lectures and it will be interesting to see what she will say about her book, life with John, and life after The Diane Rehm Show.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hill Towns by Anne Rivers Siddons

What a cast of characters Siddons has created in this novel. Although they are few, they are remarkable and polarizing as to whether you like them or despise them.

Cat Compton lost her parents when she was a five year old girl and was raised by her grandparents in a small college hill town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She finishes, college, marries a professor, Joe Gaillard,  at the college and has a daughter, who is born blind. The trauma of the death of her parents and the uncertainty of the "outside" world contributes to her agoraphobia. She has such a difficult time coming down from the mountain, that she undergoes a very rigorous course of psychotherapy. When one of Joe's former students announces that he will be married in Italy, it is a chance for Cat to muster up some courage and accompany her husband to Rome for the wedding. 

Joe, like so many of us, arrives at his destination without luggage. He scrambles for some clothing before he and Cat are off to a pre-wedding party at the palatial home of Ada and Sam Forrest. There are the young couple Colin and Maria and the wild Yolanda, a TV personality. Sam is a famous painter and Ada will do whatever she needs to do to push his career, including pushing him to begin painting Cat. 

After a couple of medical emergencies as they traverse Italy from Rome to Venice to Tuscany, energies, emotions, and hormones become unleashed. Is all that happens attributed to the change in Cat, the machinations of Ada, the vulnerability of Joe, the licentious actions of Sam, or the unrestrained influence of Yolanda? When they reach Sienna, the plot thickens as the portrait of Cat is unveiled. 

I really wanted to like this book. It was very favorably reviewed. It was well written, a wonderful travelogue through Italy. However, I did find the characters, although well developed, a bit unappealing. I wanted to shake them and say what are you doing? The novel is a quick read and perfect for a diversion from the spy, mystery books I usually like. Siddons attempts to fill her characters with all that is part of human nature and, as Yolanda succinctly puts it, "Americans behave badly in Italy."