Last week, I finished Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir about her poor, rural, black southern community, her family, and, most of all, the five young men who died within four years when she was in her mid-20s: her brother, cousin and three friends. Her writing makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping from the corner of the living room in her mother’s trailer or the back seat of her car, absorbing sights, sounds, and scents, sweating and shivering. You feel her ups and downs, fun and grief.
In the middle of the book, I got bored with some of the childhood and teenage tales although I know why they’re there: to provide context and to honor and remember those she lost. I would have preferred a straightforward chronological timeline instead of the way she had one going forward interspersed with one going backward, but she wanted her brother’s death to be the climax of sorts even though it was the first one to occur. And that’s no spoiler, she makes it clear from the beginning what’s going on.
It’s tough to immerse yourself in the overall depression and numbing; racism, scorn, and cruelty of the whites; hopelessness affecting young men who can’t keep up in school, drop out and can’t find jobs; and abandonment by fathers who care more about their own desires than their families.
“We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess. Death spreads, eating away at the root of our community like a fungus… I carry the weight of grief even as I struggle to live. I understand what it feels like to be under siege.”
I’m grateful for having read it, not lived it, and I’m grateful she has chosen to share her life with us so we can better understand why people have so much pain. You can be on the periphery of the lives of friends and acquaintances going through similar experiences, but having this inside look at someone’s story makes more of an impact. You can see why the cycles of poverty, addiction, and violence exist. It feels like a miracle when someone escapes it. She makes it clear that not everyone in communities like hers is addicted or violent, of course, yet they remain in those communities either because they have no other choice, or because they stay, like she has, to live and love despite the despair and awfulness around them.
Yes, I recommend it. And I’ll read more by her.
I’m finishing up The Leavers by Lisa Ko, a story about a Chinese immigrant mother and son. She’s an intriguing character, one I think about when not reading, and I’m wondering how their story will end. When I want a treat, I’ve been picking up A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture and Life by Monica Bhide. It’s full of delightful stories centered around food.
As of earlier today, these ebooks at Amazon were on sale at $2 to $4—up to an 89% discount—but act quickly if you want a bargain. These deals may only last a day or a week, you never know. If you’re in the browsing mood, check out last week’s ebook sales too—some of those books may still be on sale. Book blurbs are from the Amazon page unless otherwise credited.
Reminder: some of these books may only be on sale a few days so act quickly if you’re interested. Click on the title to get to the Amazon deal.
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile ($1.99)
I read this for book club and really enjoyed it, plus I learned a bit about sugarcane farming too.
Charley Bordelon, an African American woman and single mother struggling to build a new life amid the complexities of the contemporary South… unexpectedly inherits eight hundred acres of sugarcane land, she and her eleven-year-old daughter say goodbye to smoggy Los Angeles and head to Louisiana. She soon learns, however, that cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley struggles to balance the overwhelming challenges of a farm in decline with the demands of family and the startling desires of her own heart.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong ($2.99)
Named “a best book of the year” by many and prize finalist. After her father’s Alzheimer’s disease progresses, 30-year old Ruth pulls up stakes and moves home temporarily to help care for him. The timing is fortuitous given that Ruth’s own life has recently gone sideways with a broken engagement and the realization that her life is not what she’d envisioned… Author Rachel Khong finds the humor in painful moments without diluting their importance and brings insight into the absurdity of trying to find balance when even our own minds may send us spinning in circles.
Outline by Rachel Cusk ($3.99, 60% off)
Prize finalist and on many “best of year” lists. Outline takes a hard look at the things that are hardest to speak about. It brilliantly captures conversations, investigates people’s motivations for storytelling, and questions their ability to ever do so honestly or unselfishly. In doing so it bares the deepest impulses behind the craft of fiction writing. This is Rachel Cusk’s finest work yet, and one of the most startling, brilliant, original novels of recent years.
How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life by Sheila Heti ($3.99, 60% off)
Chosen, along with Outline above, as one of fifteen remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write in the 21st century by the book critics of The New York Times. Also on many “best of year” lists.
Reeling from a failed marriage, Sheila, a twentysomething playwright, finds herself unsure of how to live and create. When Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist, enter her life, Sheila hopes that through close—sometimes too close—observation of her new friend, her new lover, and herself, she might regain her footing in art and life. Using transcribed conversations, real emails, plus heavy doses of fiction, the brilliant and always innovative Sheila Heti crafts a work that is part literary novel, part self-help manual, and part bawdy confessional.
The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller ($1.99, 84% off)
Vying to be the most entertaining novel of 2018…an epic historical fantasy set in a World-War-I-era America where magic and science have blended into a single extraordinary art… Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite… team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals… a fantastical reimagining of American history and a beautifully composed coming-of-age tale for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner ($1.99, 84% off)
Finalist for the National Book Award and named to many “best of” lists. The riveting story of a young artist and the worlds she encounters in New York and Rome in the mid-1970s—by turns underground, elite, and dangerous… an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. At its center is Kushner’s brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. Thrilling and fearless, this is a major American novel from a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf ($2.99, 70% off)
Woolf’s famously tangled modernist masterpiece about the interior lives of a well-to-do British family, and the ways in which the First World War permanently damaged European society… one of the greatest elegies in the English language, a book which transcends time.
Food & Cooking:
Ebook sales like these sometimes only last a day or a week, so act quickly.
Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes by Nigella Lawson ($1.99, 80% off)
Before she was a Food Network star and bestselling cookbook author, Nigella found her way to Florence, where she learned to cook like an Italian. Indeed, Italian cooking is trademark Nigella: light on touch but robust with flavor… Nigella believes that every ingredient must earn its place in a recipe, and she gives tips and techniques for making the most of your time in the kitchen… Nigellissima is a love letter to the pleasures of cooking—and eating—the way Italians do. With a nod to the traditional but in Nigella’s trademark style, here are recipes that excite the imagination without stressing the cook.
Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly by Colu Henry ($1.99, 89% off)
Here are more than 75 sophisticated, weeknight-friendly pasta dishes that come together in the same amount of time it takes to boil the water. As much a mindset as it is a cookbook, Back Pocket Pasta shows how a well-stocked kitchen and a few seasonal ingredients can be the driving force behind delicious, simply prepared meals.
Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow ($2.99)
Eater’s 2016 Cookbook of the Year. Food that surprises us and engages all of our senses—it looks good, tastes vibrant, and feels fortifying yet refreshing… Koslow shares 100 of her favorite recipes for health-conscious but delicious dishes, all of which always use real foods—no fake meat or fake sugar here…an entirely new kind of cookbook and approach to how we are all starting to think about food, allowing readers to play with the recipes, combining and shaping them to be nothing short of everything you want to eat.
Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman ($1.99, 83% off)
A young historical gastronomist named Sarah Lohman discovered that American food is united by eight flavors: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In “a unique and surprising view of American history…richly researched, intriguing, and elegantly written” (The Atlantic), Lohman sets out to explore how these influential ingredients made their way to the American table.
Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles: Letters to Helen Evans Brown by James Beard ($2.99)
Renowned culinary master James Beard and his dear friend, chef Helen Evans Brown, shared both a love of food and a keen insight into the changing palate of American diners. In this twelve-year, bicoastal epistolary exchange of three hundred letters, Beard and Brown offer not only tidbits of indispensable culinary guidance but also two fascinating perspectives on cooking. Whether swapping recipes for dishes like chocolate crepes and roast duck, trading descriptions of delicious meals, or exchanging stories about their travels, Beard and Brown bring their world to vivid life, and their letters provide a unique snapshot of a culinary love affair that is guaranteed to delight epicureans of all stripes.
These books were on sale as of Monday morning, but may not be on sale for long—act quickly.
Stars Between the Sun and Moon: One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom by Lucia Jang ($1.99)
Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household… However, there is nothing common about Jang. She is a woman of great emotional depth, courage, and resilience… Driven by starvation—her family’s as well as her own—Jang illegally crossed the river to better-off China to trade goods. She was caught and imprisoned twice… In a dramatic escape, she was smuggled with her newborn to China, fled to Mongolia under gunfire, and finally found refuge in South Korea before eventually settling in Canada. With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang’s fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known.
A Natural Woman: A Memoir by Carole King ($3.99, 66% off)
Carole King takes us from her early beginnings in Brooklyn, to her remarkable success as one of the world’s most acclaimed songwriting and performing talents of all time… A Natural Woman chronicles King’s extraordinary life, drawing readers into her musical world, including her phenomenally successful #1 album Tapestry, and into her journey as a performer, mother, wife and present-day activist.
Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by Andra Watkins ($0.99, 85% off)
Watkins needed a wingman to help her become one of the only living persons to walk the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. She planned to walk fifteen miles a day. For thirty-four days. After striking-out with everyone in her life, she was left with her disinterested eighty-year-old father… As Watkins trudged America’s forgotten highway, she lost herself in despair and pain. Nothing happened according to plan, and her tenuous connection to her father started to unravel. Through arguments and laughter, tears and fried chicken, they fought to rebuild their relationship before it was too late.
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander ($3.99, 60% off)
Pulitzer Prize finalist. Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss… an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the priceless gift of human companionship.
How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux Pas by Samantha Vérant ($2.99, 75% off)
Take one French widower, his two young children, and drop a former city girl from Chicago into a small town in southwestern France. Shake vigorously, and voilà: a blended Franco-American family…heartwarming and sometimes hilarious story of the culture clashes and faux pas that, in the end, add up to one happy family.
Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Daniel Mallory Ortberg ($2.99, 75% off)
Hilariously imagined text conversations—the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange—from classic and modern literary figures… a witty, irreverent mashup that brings the characters from your favorite books into the twenty-first century.
Looking for more e-cookbook and ebook deals? Check out last week’s list, some of them are still on sale.
Creative Commons licensed photos by Jim Cooke (lighthouse) and Jorge Zapata (pasta) on Unsplash.
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