Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a beautiful novel that artfully weaves together the stories of several women into one shared experience. Set in the wake of World War I, it follows the lives of a group of Japanese women who came to California as picture brides, knowing very little of the men to whom they would be married. Told in the first person plural, the narrative begins with the young women as they traveled across the ocean to start their new lives. Marriage, childbirth, earning a living, raising families, and being part of a community, they all learned to navigate life in this strange place. Eventually, what they came to think of as home was taken away as the Second World War called into question their loyalties. At times heartbreaking, and other times wryly funny, this book seems to be more about what actually happened than any purely factual account could contain. It is an album made up of hundreds of snapshots on a loose time line that brings to life a piece of history that is so often forgotten.
The Buddha in the Attic
You don’t need a chemistry degree to bake great whole grain bread, but the better you understand things like enzyme activity and gluten development, the easier it will be to create loaves your family loves, rather than cardboard health food. This is what the master does so well in Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. He has developed techniques that take what is great about artisanal bread, and brings it to the world of 100% whole grain. He describes why it works at the molecular level, so that you can use his basic recipes to develop your own signature creations. If your idea of homemade bread is frozen dough that you pop out of a can, then this is probably not the book for you. But as someone who has always enjoyed baking, I found that his techniques are simple to follow, and yield delicious results.
Peter Reinhardt's Whole Grain Breads
In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two stories into one engaging novel, which takes the reader back and forth between historical fiction and modern day murder mystery. While the former helps to lay the groundwork for the latter, each is its own journey. Using a series of fictional documents to tell the story of Ann Eliza Young, whose divorce from Brigham Young in the mid 1870’s, and outspoken criticism of polygamy became national news, the author provides the almost unbiased feeling of being a researcher. Meanwhile, his first person narrative of Jordan, the excommunicated son of fundamentalist Mormons from an isolated community, immediately draws you into to his struggle. This is the character I really cared about, and what keep me up at night to read “just one more chapter.” This definitely does not read like a judgment of a religious practice, but rather a glimpse into a different world. As you follow Jordan on his path to confront his past, you feel the weight of how much history has defined it, and you really care about him, and the unlikely heroes who help him find his way.
The 19th Wife
The Joy of Cheesemaking is a well-rounded guide to the somewhat complex world of cheese. The authors are educators in artisan cheese making, so the book really goes into the science of the process in a way that most home cheese making manuals miss. It includes lots of helpful illustrations that get down to the molecular level to explain the how and why. Yet the book is anything but a stuffy scientific text. There are beautiful photographs of dairy farms, and artisan cheese makers at work. Filled with lots of wonderful recipes, and guides to pairing with wine and beer, this is a book for the cheese aficionado. Having made hard cheeses for a while at home, I really appreciated the depth of information, but might not recommend this to someone as a “how to” for their first batch of fresh cheese. The focus is not so much on making cheese in your kitchen, though there is a simple Queso Blanco recipe that would probably work well for a beginner. That said, if you just love cheese this is a great resource, and it may even get you excited enough to give cheese making a try.
The joy of cheesemaking: the ultimate guide to understanding, making and eating fine cheese