Archive for the ‘vignettes’ Tag

Getting Past Racism   Leave a comment

Book Review: 'The Sum of Us,' by Heather McGhee - The New York Times

Heather McGhee is an economist and social policy advocate. As former president of Demos, a think tank, she helped draft legislation, was a regular on news programs, has a law degree and chairs the board of Color of Change, an online racial justice organization. To say she was the right person to write The Sum of Us is an understatement.

McGhee’s premise is racism doesn’t only impact people of color, but also affects (financially and emotionally) whites. She traveled across the country interviewing people who have lost their homes, opportunities for better jobs, health care and been denied better education. Not everyone she interviewed was Black.

The issues are rooted in politics, greed and perception. She writes of a once-booming mill town in Maine, where Somali and other African nation immigrants now live. Local politicians claim their arrival accounts for lost jobs; yet, this occurred long before. Rather, they contribute to the economy and culture of the community. Through their experiences, McGhee tells of individuals of different races reaching out to one another and benefitting from the effort.

The chapters address a range of topics: Racism Drained the Pool; The Same Sky and The Solidarity Dividend, among others. The latter is an example of one of the many beauties of this work; McGhee not only identifies the issues; she offers solutions. If only people were willing to apply them. Her strong belief is based on people working together rather than at odds. Of course, she acknowledges this can’t/won’t happen overnight.

The Sum of Us: What Racism costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

One World, 2021

415 pages (includes Notes and Index)

A Daughter of the Kitchen   1 comment

Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories by Fanny Singer

Always Home by Fanny Singer is a beautifully-written homage to her childhood as the daughter of renowned chef and food activist, Alice Waters. The inspired black and white photos and recipes are a bonus.

Singer was born after Chez Panisse opened its doors. The Berkeley restaurant, at the forefront of using locally-grown, organic ingredients, is where California cuisine and Waters garnered international attention. The book reveals as much about Waters as the author; it creates a sense of envy at their lifestyle. Not only because of the food prepared and eaten, but their travel experiences. Summers in the south of France, vacations in Italy and Mexico are vividly rendered through descriptions of the landscapes, along with meals and those with whom they were shared.

Yes, Singer is close to her mother but Waters isn’t the only influence on this accomplished writer. A host of honorary aunts, uncles, grandparents and those with direct connections to the restaurant, considered “La Famille Panisse,” fill the pages in much the same way they contribute to Singer’s life.

Each chapter is filled with humor – some self-deprecating. While this might be considered a memoir, it flows more organically, as if Singer is having a conversation with the reader. Her memories are recounted in no specific, chronological order as vignettes: a Christmas here or school trip there. The result is an engaging and fun read.

Brigitte Lacombe’s photographs enhance the pages. Consequently, a coffee table seems a better place than a bookshelf for showing off this work.

Always Home
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2020
317 pages

Time to Let Go   2 comments

Chestnut Street

Maeve Binchy died in 2012. Since then, two posthumously published works made their way to readers. And as much as I’d like to keep reading her poignant, if often overly-sentimental, stories, enough is enough. I previously reviewed A Week in Winter here. It was typical Binchy full of coincidences, lessons learned and colorful characters; it was fun to read. Unfortunately, I am less enthralled by Chestnut Street, a collection of unrelated vignettes – or chestnuts, if you will.

Like her more complete novels, Binchy’s characters reflect humor and insight into human failings and triumphs. The stories touch on lost loves, personal sacrifices and family relationships. However, the residents of this fictional neighborhood need further fleshing out. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

The title, Chestnut Street, is what ties everything together, but the strands are too loose. The collection reads as if someone simply went through and identified a place to insert the name of the fictional Dublin road. It doesn’t work. All the characters share an address, but no one has a connection to anyone else. The stories are short, more like sketches. Just because they bear a faint semblance to her style, doesn’t mean they’re book-worthy. What’s next, a compilation of her shopping lists or recipe file?

Binchy was prolific. My suggestion is to read the works she completed, and if you have already done. Start over. That will be far less disappointing than trudging along Chestnut Street.

Chestnut Street
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
368 pages