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A Book a Week

Books never run out of batteries, don’t have to be turned off before bedtime and are calorie-free

Every year, your gift list gets longer.

Some of the newbies on your list are also new to the family. Some are friends to whom you’ve grown close. There’s that neighbor who’s so awesome, the new supervisor at work, an uncle who’s visiting this year, your child’s new teacher, and a Secret Santa program you’ve joined. And usually, you’re able to keep up with your list and know exactly what to give… but then there’s that one person who’s so hard to shop for.

Why not give a book?  Books never run out of batteries, they don’t have to be turned off before bedtime, and they’re totally calorie-free. Take a look at these suggestions…

The Neil Gaiman fan on your list is in luck this year: first, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” illustrated by Eddie Campbell is a novel with aspects of graphic novels and the flair that Gaiman fans relish.

If historical fiction is of great interest to someone on your gift list, then look for “Desert God” by Wilbur Smith. This novel, set in ancient Egypt, includes a hero who is very close to the Pharaoh… almost too close. Magic, love, war – what else could your giftee want?

The Neil Gaiman fan on your list is in luck this year: first, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” illustrated by Eddie Campbell is a novel with aspects of graphic novels and the flair that Gaiman fans relish. And your giftee will know that this years’ best gift came from you when you wrap it up with “The Art of Neil Gaiman” by Hayley Campbell, foreword by Audrey Niffenegger, a book filled with notes, artwork, poetry, reflections, and more from The Master.

Western lovers will love reading “The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan, a story of a green lawman and the older jailed killer he’s tasked with watching. Set in the Old West, this book is laced with a tautness that modern readers will love. Wrap it up with “Painted Horses” by Malcolm Brooks, a novel with a modern setting and a romantic spin.

For the suspense fan who loves a little ghost story, too, how about “Haunted” by Randy Wayne White?  This suspense novel features White’s newest character, Hannah Smith, who is tasked with saving a supposedly-haunted house. But is the rumor of a ghost worse than the reality of a murderous flesh-and-blood human? Wrap it up with “Remains of Innocence” by J.A. Jance, a suspenseful novel about a dying woman and her money, a dead man and a scandal, and the sheriff who must solve both terrible cases.

The thriller fan on your list will love “Mercy 6” by David Bajo, a novel about a mystery disease that’s killing people in a California hospital – or is it? Are the patients dying of illness or something else?  Grab this one, and toss “Bones Never Lie” by Kathy Reichs, in the bag, too. It’s a novel of suspense featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

If you’ve got someone on your gift list who’s itching to start all over, preferably as someone else, then “How to Build a Girl” by Caitlin Moran could be the just-right gift. This sassy novel is about a teenager who tries to reinvent herself but, of course, things like that don’t always work so well…

You may have a visitor to Mitford on your gift list this year, and there’s no doubt that she misses her favorite town and her favorite pastor – so “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good” by Jan Karon is a sure-fire gift. In this book, Father Tim returns to Mitford with his wife and family after a five-year absence, only to find that some things change – and not just a little.

For the reader who loves faction (fact + fiction), you’ll want to find “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters” by Michelle Lovric. Based on a real family of sisters who grew their hair long (LONG!!) and performed in public, this book imagines their relationships with one another, the jealousy, and the scandal.

For the parent on your list – particularly for the parent of a picky toddler – wrap up “You Have to F*cking Eat” by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Owen Brozman. It’s the follow-up to the sleep book from a few years ago, the one that made parents hysterical with laughter. Be aware – I can’t stress this enough – that this book has profanity, so it’s NOT for kids but it IS for folks with a great sense of humor.

There is absolutely no trivia fan in the world who could be without “1,339 Quite Interesting Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop” by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, and James Harkin. This totally fun book is filled with I-didn’t-know-that facts that practically beg to be read aloud. It’s the kind of book you want to take on the ride to Grandma’s this holiday, so you can share it on the road.

If there’s someone on your gift list who likes to poke the bear and stir up trouble, then “Villains, Scoundrels, and Rogues” by Paul Martin may be the right thing to wrap. This book is filled with short chapters on all kinds of real-life troublemakers and shady citizens. How fun is that? Wrap it up with “Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel” by MaryJean Wall, for an even more rascally gift.

The person on your list who lives by the motto “I (Heart) NY” will absolutely swoon over “A History of New York in 101 Objects” by Sam Roberts. This book is a love story to The Big Apple, complete with pictures, stories, and tiny little things that make NYC so FUN. Wrap it up with “Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver” by Eugene Salomon, a name-dropping, jaw-dropping collection of memories of fares, no-fairs, stars, scandalous behavior, and tourists. Who could miss that?

Your card sharp will find Lady Luck smiling when he (or she!) opens “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, The Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker” by Doug J. Swanson. This is a book to prove that what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas – and that’s a good thing.

What makes a good love last?  Someone on your gift list wonders that same thing, and in “Love Cycles” by Linda Carroll, she (or he!) will find the answer. Wrap it up with two tickets to anywhere, and wish the happy couple well.

The gardener on your list is going to go wild for “A Garden of Marvels” by Ruth Kassinger. This is a book about the secret lives of plants: what they eat, how they mate, and how they grow. Wrap it up with a trowel and a few packages of seeds, for a nice promise-of-spring gift.

For the person on your list who seems to be Google’s biggest user, “Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It” by Ian Leslie could be just right to give. This book proves that curiosity isn’t at an all-time high, like you might think; in fact, it’s on the wane and that’s bad.

For the musician or lover of classical music, “The Late Starters Orchestra” by Ari L. Goldman will be a nice surprise this holiday. It’s the story of a group of amateur musicians of all ages who get together once a week to do something that makes their hearts soar – and it’ll put a song in the heart of your giftee.

The outdoorsman on your list doesn’t need another pair of hand warmers or wool socks – so wrap up “The Three-Minute Outdoorsman” by Robert M. Zink instead. This book is full of short, just-a-few-pages essays on hunting, fishing, and nature, and (believe it or not) science. He (or SHE!) is going to love this book.

For the True Crime aficionado, “Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a killer to Justice” by Kate Clark Flora might be the most thrilling gift she opens this year. It’s the story of a missing woman, murder, and the cooperation between law enforcement departments in two countries.

Your connoisseur of cocktails will love opening “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit” by Dane Huckelbridge. This book takes a look at this drink that’s older than you think, and uniquely American.  Pair it up with a couple of good glasses and “Moonshine Nation” by Mark Spivak. It’s a history of the spirit, and your giftee will absolutely love that it contains party-worthy recipes!

For the lead on the debate team, “Impolite Conversations” by Cora Daniels and John L. Jackson Jr. will be a welcome gift. This discussion on all the things that start an argument in polite circles (race, politics, sex, cash, and God) may poke thoughts or anger; either way, it’s perfect for the person who loves a good, challenging argument. Add “Living with a Wild God” by Barbara Ehrenreich – a nonbeliever’s quest for a higher power – for a debatably perfect gift.

The animal lover on your list will sit up and beg for “Animal Madness” by Laurel Braitman. It’s a book about how neurotic, anxiety-ridden, misbehaving animals – domestic and otherwise – may hold clues to our own behavior. Pair it up with “Wild Connection” by Jennifer L. Verdolin, a book about animal courtship and how we’re more like them than we know…

And for any dog lover you know, a two-pronged book will be just right. First, you’ll want to fetch “Dogs in Cars” by Lara Jo Regan, a pictorial of (you guessed it) very happy dogs in very cool cars.

Then add “Shake Puppies” by Carli Davidson, a book filled with pictures of (guessed it again) puppies in the midst of a good soul-fixing shake. For sure, these books made me hug my fur-boys, and they’re double delight for your doggie demands.

I was, by the way, completely, totally charmed by “Harlow & Sage (and Indiana)” by Brittni Vega, a tale (with pictures!) of three four-footed best friends and their adventures. It’s absolutely something your dog-lover would beg for.

For the spiritual person on your gift list, “The Grateful Table” by Brenda Knight, foreword by Nina Lesowitz will be an excellent book to wrap up. It’s filled with prayers, graces and thoughts meant for mealtime, but not only. Your giftee will be more than welcome to use it anytime… maybe even right after it’s opened! Pair it up with “Having the Time of Your Life: Little Lessons to Live By” by Allen Klein, a book of quotations to further enhance joy.

The movie buff on your list will eat up “The Zombie Book: An Encyclopedia of the Living Dead” by Nick Redfern, with Brad Steiger. It’s filled with entries on the genre, including directors, plots, and TV shows. Innocent fun – no. A welcome gruesome gift – absolutely yes!  Wrap it up with “The Government UFO Files: The Conspiracy of Cover-Up” by Kevin D. Randle for a gift that creeps on giving.

One more thing for your movie buff: “The Sci-Fi Movie Guide” by Chris Barsanti. It’s packed with SF goodness, facts, and bios, and when you add in a DVD of your favorite oldie-but-a-goodie, you know it’ll be the best thing beneath the tree.

So there’s a mathematician on your gift list, or someone who loves numbers?  Then look for “Whatever Happened to the Metric System?” by John Bemelmans Barciano. It’s a great account of why we don’t largely use millimeters and centimeters, but why science does and Europeans definitely do. It’ll be a great gift – count on it.

Historians who also love a little geography in their books will love “Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day” by Carrie Gibson.

The Royal Watcher on your list might like watching back a few hundred years with “How to Ruin a Queen” by Jonathan Beckman. This book is about Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, their lives and times – but it also focuses on a true crime mystery of missing diamonds.

A curious history for those on the go is “Winnebago Nation” by James B. Twitchell. This book examines our love of RVs, campers, and travel, and it includes plenty of old ads and pictures. Wrap it with a journal and a map for a great gift.

World War II buffs probably have shelves and shelves of books about the War, but here’s an unusual book that might work as a gift this year: “The Dog Who Could Fly” by Damien Lewis, It’s the tale of a two-legged airman and his four-legged co-pilot, a small German shepherd that accompanied his human on many flights and even saved his life.

Surely, there’s an adrenaline junkie on your list who will relish the chance to read “Alone in Antarctica” by Felicity Aston!  This memoir from the first woman to ski across the globe’s southern-most continent all by herself is filled with danger, adventure, and everything armchair daredevils want.

The romantic soul on your list will LOVE “Romance is My Day Job” by Patience Bloom. Bloom is an editor at romance-novel giant Harlequin, but she’d never found love herself. She’d given up on it, in fact, until a tiny little chance encounter changed everything. Happy ending?  I’m not saying, but it’s a romance, after all, you know…

Historians who also love a little geography in their books will love “Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day” by Carrie Gibson. It’s a sweeping brick-of-a-book that encompasses the whole area, the countries that have laid claim to it over the years, and the people who live there now.

The art lover on your list will smile enigmatically when opening “Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered” by Dianne Hales. It’s the story of da Vinci’s most famous model, her life, and what life was like when she sat for her portrait.

What do you give to the person who’s going through the trial of her life?  You might wrap up “A Breast Cancer Alphabet” by Madhulika Sikka. In here, your friend will find advice, a bit of humor, information from the Been-There, Done-That crew, and more. Bonus: it’s an easy book to browse.

For the forward thinker on your list, “Cannabis Pharmacy” by Michael Backes may be just the right thing to wrap. This is a book about growing, using, and knowing about medical marijuana, from the plant to the end user and everything in between.

If there’s a First Responder on your gift list, you can’t go wrong when you give “Bulletproof Spirit” by Captain Dan Willis.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook incident, “The Price of Silence” by Liza Long asks the question that many mothers asked: what if the shooter was my child? This book takes a look at mental illness in children, from the perspective of a family member, and it’s a fascinating book that could make a stellar gift.

And there you are! A whole lot of ideas for that hard-to-buy-for person on your gift list. Best of all, if these ideas don’t fill the bill, then you can always give a gift certificate, or you can throw yourself at the mercy of your friendly bookseller. Yes, he or she is absolutely brimming with ideas for everybody on your gift list, so what are you waiting for?

Season’s Readings!

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Treasure in the Back Yard

When you read 'Lives in Ruins,' you’ll remember why digging for treasure was so much fun

“Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble” by Marilyn Johnson
c.2014, Harper                           $25.99 / $31.99 Canada                 275 pages

Your back yard was filled with treasure.

When you were a kid, you were sure of it – and while it mightn’t have been Pirate booty, there were certainly other riches there. Fossils beneath the grass, remnants from long-ago warriors, glass bottles, even coins awaited discovery.

Alas, all you ever found were chicken bones but when you read “Lives in Ruins” by Marilyn Johnson, you’ll remember how digging for them was so much fun.

Like many children, Marilyn Johnson grew up looking for fossils in her parents’ garden. The possibility of what she might find underground excited her then so, a few years ago, she decided to “collect” archaeologists and the knowledge they have.

When most people think of archaeology, they think of Indiana Jones or dinosaurs. Both are incorrect, says Johnson; Indy was a curator. Dino diggers are paleontologists, while archaeologists look for “people and the things that they leave behind…”  To become the latter, you’ll need an extensive apprenticeship for which you’ll pay. Then you’ll “work hard under primitive conditions,” in an industry with notoriously low wages.
Johnson’s education would be a little different, though.

She started in the National Museum of Ireland, where human remains from the country’s peat bogs lie, awaiting study. They were “riveting,” she says, but she was surprised to learn that bog bodies do not require “a lot of excavations…”

From there, she worked on St. Eustatius , a Caribbean island where the surroundings were “toxic” and projects were plentiful, but not as eagerly excavated as they once were. She spent time with a New York archaeologist who makes Stone-Age tools in order to fully understand how they work. She learned how ancient science is teaming up with craft breweries to create beverages from residue found in thousand-year-old pots. She fell in love with “pig dragons,” saw why the “future of archaeology lies underwater,” and discovered how women fought for a spot in the trenches. She visited “the most important archaeological site in the United States ” and learned how archaeology played a part, post-9/11. And she writes about how amateurs are the thorn in – and possibly the future of –archaeology today.
Is one man’s trash another man’s treasure?

Could be - and bones, too, as author Marilyn Johnson indicates, but she also shows that archaeology isn’t Indiana-Jones-romantic, either; in fact, it’s backbreaking, sometimes thankless work that many countries and businesses don’t perceive as important. Time and again, Johnson writes about projects scuttled, archaeologists discouraged, and history lost because bones and detritus were lost due to lack of money or corporate pressure.

And yet, despite that which surely will make historians gasp, there’s a certain kid-like fascination locked in this book. Johnson’s enthusiasm for her subject is infectious and she shares what she learned in the field. Her curiosity lays ours to rest, and I loved it.

Read this book, and you’ll never look at dirt quite the same. You’ll never step outside without wondering what you’re stepping on. Read it, because “Lives in Ruins” is a book you can really dig.

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Books for Kids and Teens

Ideas for all the kids on your gift list

I seriously don’t think I know one little kid who doesn’t like a bedtime story. Heck, I like a bedtime story, and I liked “Day is Done: Prayers and Blessings for Bedtime” by Elena Pasquali, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano. This is one of those books that can be read quietly for a soothing night-night, both for adult and for child.  Wrap it up with “Little Owl’s Day” by Divya Srinivasan, a cute story about a little guy whose inability to sleep gets him into a big adventure.

Board books are always great gifts for the smallest person on your list, and “I Love Hockey” is just right for the future sticks fan. And keep this one in mind: “Little Birthday,” a book of riddles. Yes, unlike most board books, these two have a good amount of narrative, so they’re also presents you can read aloud.

The mini-farmer on your list will want to unwrap “I Love You Just Enough” by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen.  It’s the tale of a wild baby duck and the girl who raised him after he was separated from his mother. But ducks grow faster than do little girls, and it causes a bit of concern…

Who has enough books?  Not your giftee, and not the kids in “The Children Who Loved Books” by Peter Carnavas. It’s the tale of too many and too few, but having enough of the important things.

Wrap it up with “If You Wish” by Kate Westerlund and Robert Ingpen, a beautifully illustrated story of a little girl who learns that books can take her to all kinds of places without even leaving her house.

For the child who loves making friends, you can’t go wrong with “Jenny & Lorenzo” by Toni Steiner and Eve Tharlet. It’s the tale of a mouse and her very unusual friendship with someone who wants to have her for dinner.


The budding politician (or the 7-to-13-year-old current events fan) will love owning “The U.S. Congress for Kids” by Ronald A. Reis, foreword by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, afterword by Rep. Kristi Noem. This book includes history, stats, facts, pictures, graphs, and activities that underscore what your child learns. This is a great gift for the kid who just returned from or is going to visit the Capital this year.

If there’s a mystery lover on your list, then look for “Somebody on this Bus is Going to Be Famous” by J.B. Cheaney.  A strangely empty bus stop. A bus full of kids, each with one clue. A bus driver who acts all weird. Can your whodunit fan solve the mystery before the kids on the bus do it? 

“The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm” translated & edited by Jack Zipes, illustrated by Andrea Dezso may be a challenge for kids this age. You might have to help with some of the words or you may even want to read it aloud together. But if your 7-to-12-year-old enjoys fables and such, then you can’t go wrong with this heavy, elegant investment in their reading future.

Young science fans will devour “Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius is Science” by Claire Eamer, pictures by SA Boothroyd. It’s a book about scientific theories that were originally ridiculed (along with their creators) and how those unfortunate men were eventually vindicated.

For the lover of espionage, “Top Secret Files: World War II” by Stephanie Bearce will be a great gift. This is a nonfiction book about undercover work during the War, including spies and secret missions, rat bombs, double agents, and more.  Bonus: it might get the kids interested in history, too.


Teen readers who love futuristic novels (but can’t handle a whole lot of fantasy) will love “The Scavengers” by Michael Perry. It’s the story of a young woman who’s left behind by her family when they leave town, and the only way she can survive is by scavenging – alone. Excitement. Danger. What more could your teen want? Wrap it up with “The Girl From the Well” by Rin Chupeco for a gruesome gift duo.

For the teen who enjoys history, or for a diary-keeper, “Yoko’s Diary,” edited by Paul Ham might make a great gift. This is the true story of a 13-year-old Japanese girl who lived near Hiroshima during World War II. It’s a powerful book, made even more so by the editor’s notes. I also liked “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750,” edited by Jason Rodriguez. It’s a graphic book (a sort of comic book, if you’re wondering) about the early years of America, written by various authors and illustrated by various artists.

So your teen has loved The Wizard of Oz since toddlerhood?  Then wrap up “Dorothy Must Die” by Danielle Paige. It’s the story of the anti-Dorothy – a girl named Amy, who’s been trained as a warrior. Dark?  Yep, but great for your fave fantasy fan. Wrap it up with “Night Sky” by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann. It’s a thriller about a kidnapping and a different kind of hero that may – or may not – save the day. (And yes, by the way, that’s novelist Suzanne Brockmann, of course).

Novel lovers will completely enjoy “Boys Like You” by Juliana Stone, the story of a girl with a guilty broken heart and a boy with a different sort of painful burden, and how they find each other to help mend the ache.

If these ideas don’t fill the bill, then you can always give a gift certificate, or you can throw yourself at the mercy of your friendly bookseller. Yes, he or she is absolutely brimming with ideas for everybody on your gift list, so what are you waiting for?

Season’s Readings!

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Men are a Foreign Country

Book Review: 'Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation'

There are aliens among us.

That’s how it might seem when you’re dealing with members of the opposite sex. You often feel, for instance, as though you speak different languages. Surely, you see the world in ways they don’t, and they intuitively understand certain things you never will – hence, they must be from another universe or… something.

But you love ‘em anyhow, and so does Laura Kipnis. In her book “Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation,” she writes about some she’s known.

While rifling through a bunch of her old critiques and essays, Laura Kipnis, a “daddy’s girl who grew into a wayward woman” realized that many of those articles were about men, mostly those of the rascally, “immoderate” kind.

Despite having written extensively about them, “men are still a foreign country,” she says, but she’s drawn to them, particularly those who “laugh too loud and drink too much… who have off-kilter politics and ideas.”
Men like Larry Flynt, publisher of a notorious men’s magazine, about whom Kipnis wrote, never thinking that she’d actually meet him – but she did, several times. His magazine was “disgusting” but she found Flynt to be an interesting, multi-layered convention-breaker. He “challenged” Kipnis at her “corked-up core.”

“Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation” by Laura Kipnis
c.2014, Metropolitan Books           $25.00 / $28.99 Canada               211 pages

Or, men like Ron Galella, “celebrity stalker-photographer” who trailed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for much of her life. He annoyed her, sued her (and vice versa), and paid little attention to court orders in order to get her picture. Today, he considers Onassis as somewhat of a muse but, says Kipnis, “it’s not exactly evident that being an artist and being an upstanding guy were ever one and the same thing.”

There are the “juicers” who are criticized for doing whatever it takes to get a leg-up on the competition.  There are the vulnerable and “Lotharios,” both of whom seem to make a mess of relationships; and men who get into trouble for their bumbling attempts at “regular human mating conduct…”

Overall, says Kipnis, there’s “something delicious” about the list she’s made here “in search of our split-off other halves…”  It’s not a definitive list, and was never meant to be so. Still, she promises, “Consider this an interim report.”

While I have to admit that “Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation” is wonderfully, wickedly barbed, it’s also a bit of a challenge.

Author Laura Kipnis points out a lot of things that many women aren’t brave enough to say out loud or, in this case, to put to paper. Her insights are as sharp as her wit but, because of the many literary references and nods to other critics here, there’s a definite East Coast / New York aspect to some of what Kipnis writes. That may not resonate quite so well with anyone unfamiliar with those figures.

Still, savvy readers will be rewarded by filling in those blanks, which enhances the observations and the enjoyment. If you can do that, you’ll understand that “Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation” is, down-deep, a profane, zinger-filled love letter to the bad boys of this world.

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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The Stories Behind Our Food

That entrée isn’t done yet

“The American Plate” by Libby H. O’Connell, PhD
c.2014, Sourcebooks               $26.99 / $33.99 Canada                          320 pages
“The American Plate” by Libby H. O’Connell, PhD c.2014, Sourcebooks $26.99 / $33.99 Canada 320 pages

Everything looks so delicious.

It all smells great, too, and you can’t decide what you like best. The meat is done just right, potatoes are mashed to perfection, biscuits are to die for. And then there’s dessert!  But – wait, leftovers. That’s your favorite…

You’ve got a lot on your plate this month, in more ways than one. And in “The American Plate” by Libby H. O’Connell, PhD, you’ll learn the stories our food can tell.
Imagine inviting a long-ago ancestor to dinner this week.

What he’d find at the table might astound him; surely, there’d be some dishes he wouldn’t even recognize. That’s because “remarkable changes in ingredients, recipes, and menus over the centuries” have changed how – and what – we eat.

That ancestor, for instance, might’ve enjoyed dining on grilled beavertail. Yum.

Then again, he’d know maize (corn, to us) very well. Native Americans grew it more than 9,000 years ago, and your ancestor might have had it in his garden, along with beans and squash, a farming method called the Three Sisters.

If he lived near the East Coast, he might’ve relished cod, though your Friday Night Fish Fry would seem pathetic to him. The cod he ate came in six foot long slabs, dried, salted, and kept stacked in his pantry. He might’ve added cow’s butter, dyed with gold flower petals, maybe some eel on the side, and bon appetit.

Of course, our ancestors had turkey, but they also ate offal (which sounds really awful). Those from the Netherlands brought doughnuts to the table. The British gave us syllabub. The Chinese gave us a dish, the words of which mean “odds and ends,” or chop suey. Pie was a group effort, originating from several different cultures.

Food played a role in who won The War Between the States, when Rebel forces nearly starved while Union soldiers enjoyed a bounty. At the turn of the last century, food created the first celebrity chefs. It became politicized some eighty-five years ago, then was frozen, served in front of the TV, and made fast.

And what does the future hold?  Well, pull up a chair. That entrée isn’t done yet.

Ask five of your friends about their favorite comfort foods, and you’ll get five different stories that start out, “My mom made the best….”

Chances are that those dishes are found somewhere in “The American Plate.”

So many things that you’ll eat in the next few weeks are in this book, in fact, and there’s a story behind every one of them. Author and historian Libby H. O’Connell fills our minds with the things with which we fill our bellies, letting us literarily play with our food. We get plenty of aside-dishes, and – surprise! – recipes, so you, too, can try roast beavertail, syllabub, Hangtown Fry, scrapple, or Red Cross War Cake.

Historians and cooks will obviously love this book, but I think it’s also very appropriate for anyone who likes to eat. If that’s you, then dig in. You’ll devour “The American Plate” until there’s nothing left over.

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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