2017 Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

An icy intersection

It’s been quite a year so far, hasn’t it? Vancouver came sliding into 2017 on a tide of ice, but the year seems to resemble much more dynamic weather so far. Here are some of the things contributing to the first twenty days’ whirlwind, along with a few things that may help ground you as 2017 continues to bluster.

Political Shifts

Canadians were looking south today, as a new President takes the U.S. in a drastically different direction. Canada, huge in area but small in population, is particularly dependent on trade with our next-door neighbour for much of our economic well-being. So it comes as no surprise that Canadians will be marching in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, including in Vancouver.

With Canada’s Conservative Party leadership contest sounding many of the notes that defined the U.S. Presidential race, it might be time to look at how our understanding of political divides needs to change. This New Statesman piece is centred on British realities, but these divisions seem to be holding true in many Western democracies.

Bloggers Get Real

I know I’m not the only one who wishes they could still run to The Toast in times like these, but sites like The Establishment and The Belle Jar are helping to salve the loss. (I’d love to hear your about your favourite feminist/literary/pop culture/smart writing sites, too, if you’d like to share.)

Speaking up has become the topic of much debate in the food-blogging sphere, as Dianne Jacob explores in a piece that uses posts by Lindsay Ostrom and Molly Wizenberg as a jumping off point for questions about the risks and benefits of radical honesty in a niche that is often constrained by a perceived need to please everyone.

Cooking It Out

As important as it is to stand up and be counted, to keep abreast of world events, and to communicate our personal realities deeply with one another, sometimes it’s good to find relief in the arts and in some more homey pursuits like cooking.

There’s a new opportunity to cook the stress away coming up next month. The fabulous Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness is reconvening The Cottage Cooking Club for a six-month journey through River Cottage Every Day and Love Your Leftovers.

Or you could drown your sorrows in indulgences like Dine Out Vancouver or the Hot Chocolate Festival, to recharge for the next round of fate’s slings and arrows.

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How to Cook a Book

Cookbooks I love

If you’re like me, you have shelves full of cookbooks, many of which look as pristine as the day you bought them. Even those of us who love to cook get distracted by busy lives and rely on the same handful of recipes, when we’re not getting take out. We all have dog-eared, bedraggled cookbooks that are full of stains, notes, and barely attached pages. We’ve learned the rhythms of the author’s techniques, stocked our pantry with the book’s basics, and have grown confident enough to improvise or adapt when needed.

It can be hard for new books to compete. Though they may be full of bookmarks from the first read through, they’re often neglected after the first one or two recipes, probably because there’s another new cookbook to peruse on the night stand. Cookbook clubs, online or off, offer a way to ensure you’re making the most of a cookbook while helping create a community of like-minded cooks.

I’ve been blogging through cookbooks since 2010 and it’s built community for me along with kitchen chops. If you’re considering joining a cook-along group, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Be True to Yourself

There’s no right way to write a cook-along post. Some people chart their experience with each recipe step-by-step. Others connect their assignments to stories and memories. You might be interested in writing about the roots of ingredients, recipes, or cuisines. Another blogger might weave these meals into an ongoing record of their lives. It’s not just structure that makes a blogging group work, it’s creativity.

Pros: Finding your voice is an enormous part of what makes blogging worthwhile.

Cons: If you’re struggling to find an angle, you won’t connect with your project or your readers.

Be Consistent

Make a commitment, whether that’s to cook every single recipe in the book or to participate every second month. Whether your goal is to make better use of your cookbooks, get into the kitchen more often, or begin a writing practice, you’ve got to have some structure. Your schedule doesn’t need to be precisely the same as your cook-along group’s schedule, you just have to find what works for you and stick to it.

Pros: Finding a schedule that works for you takes things from whim to project.

Cons: When things get tough, the tough get writer’s block.

Be Flexible

Illness, vacation, or work crunches can cause your cook-along to take a back seat. Don’t worry – that’s what ‘catch up’ lists are for. Your family’s health restrictions or food preferences might not fit with every recipe. Adapt the recipe, make one or some of the components, or skip it altogether. There’s no such thing as a cookbook that’s tailored to your needs and tastes precisely, unless it’s your own. If you can’t make a project work with your life, it’s not going to work at all.

Pros: If you’re too rule-oriented, you might not enjoy yourself.

Cons: If you’re too flexible, you just might find you’ve stopped.

Be Accessible

It can be frustrating to read through a post and find out that the only way to comment is to sign up for a third party commenting system – consider relaxing your restrictions a little and rely on spam filters or moderation a bit more. If it’s too hard to comment, your fellow cooks may give up trying. In a similar vein, when you’re posting your link for an assigned recipe, make sure it’s a link to the post itself, not your blog. If you’re not getting comments, it could be that folks got frustrated trying to find the right blog entry.

Pros: Being part of the conversation is what makes cook-along groups tick.

Cons: Managing spam can be time-consuming.

Be Generous

Comment on everyone’s blog, whether their following is large or small, even if you think you’d never cross paths in your offline lives. When done well, every exchange is a gift, allowing participants to learn from each other, have fun, and even form real-life friendships. Don’t be the person who doesn’t reciprocate – in the end, you’ll be the one who won’t want to stick around.

Pros: This is how you build online community.

Cons: If you’re part of a big cook-along, you’re going to have to schedule time for commenting, as well as cooking, photography, and writing.

Be Open

What started as a cook-along project for you might morph into developing your own recipes, writing reviews of cookbooks or restaurants, or spur your creative urges in another direction entirely. There’s value in participating in one of these groups from beginning to end, but there’s also much to be gained from joining mid-stream, or letting go of the group when your interests change.

Pros: Following the direction of your creative energies will keep your output fresh.

Cons: When you’re ready to move on, you’ll have to work harder to maintain the community you’ve created.

After all of that, you might be wondering, where do I sign up? There are a wealth of cook-along groups out there. Search by cookbook, cuisine, or meal and you’ll be sure to find some. To get you started, here are links to the groups I’m currently participating in:

And if the idea of joining an online cook-along just doesn’t appeal to you, don’t despair. That’s not the only way to cook a book.

Want to go your own way?

Chart your own course through your cookbook shelves, like Ei, of the Cookbook Immersion Project. Make your blog into a record of your hits and misses, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve yet to master. With no deadlines or requirements, you can visit and re-visit the books on your shelves as you see fit.

Pros: Explore your cookbook library at your own pace, according to your own tastes.

Cons: If you’re not a self-starter, you might be back at square one.

Not online? No problem!

Cookbook clubs are the new potlucks, according to a wave of recent media trend watching. Recruit a cadre of home cooks and plan regular dinners, with each participant bringing a dish from a cookbook you’ve chosen. Unlike other book clubs, the meat of the discussion is right on the table.

Pros: A delicious, multi-course meal, made by many hands. Conversation, conviviality, and analysis. No pressure to document each dish photographically or otherwise.

Cons: People are coming over! If a meal isn’t documented on the internet, did it really happen?

Once you’ve found your way, you’ll be a more skilled, more creative, more adventurous cook. Just don’t neglect those old favourites completely. Never repeating a recipe can be as much of a fault as making the same ones over and over.

G-W Portraits: Josie Boyce

Sunflowers

Yesterday, local writer and artist Josie Boyce was my guest for the G-W Portraits series. She’s a long-time resident of the Commercial Drive area and a veteran of Vancouver’s writing, performing, visual arts, and film circles.

Josie spoke about her work, what she loves about this neighbourhood, and how she builds community here.

Here’s a link to Josie’s favourite hangout on the Drive: The Storm Crow Tavern, home of Patton Oswalt’s Sadness Bowl and some excellent beer.

And here’s a link to the Femme City Choir. If you’re planning on seeing them perform this year, buy your tickets early – their shows sell out.

Josie will be reading from her in-progress memoir and other works next week:

All My Empty Dresses: Memories of a Strawgirl
Spartacus Books
3378 Findlay Street, Vancouver
Tuesday, October 13th
7:00 p.m.

You can find Josie on The Josie Pages or on Facebook.

Spring Book Reviews – Building Community One Dish at a Time

Cookbooks

I received copies of The Sweetapolita Bakebook and Seven Spoons, courtesy of Appetite by Random House Canada, at book launch celebrations with a group of local bloggers and was under no obligation to review them. All opinions are my own.

It’s easy to think of successful food bloggers as surrounded by the communities they’ve built around their blogs, but it can be a lonely pursuit. That’s why the lovely people at Appetite by Random House Canada have been working with the equally lovely folks at Food Bloggers of Canada to hold book launch celebrations with local bloggers when food bloggers turned cookbook authors visit Vancouver on their book tours.

I was lucky enough to attend two of these gatherings this spring – one with Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita and another with Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons.

For those of us that were able to attend the events, it was a chance to meet successful bloggers and cookbook authors we admired, but it was also a chance to connect with local bloggers that we may only have met online. What I hadn’t realized was that the authors themselves were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them.

Authors

Rosie Alyea told us that the ten bloggers in that room were the greater part of all the bloggers she’d ever met and that it was a pleasure to meet people who were as excited as she was about baking and writing about it.

Tara O’Brady has been food blogging almost as long as it’s been possible to do so and has set the standard for the quality of writing in the genre. Even so, she was happy to connect with others who are building community and exploring their own foodways online.

The events were an opportunity to share food from the books, conversation, and a little bubbly together. The publishers, authors, and bloggers alike are passionate about food and cooking, so there was a lot to talk about.

As much as online community-building creates enriching and vibrant engagement, meeting in person feels like a solidification of those connections. Thanks again to the folks at Appetite for providing us with that opportunity.

And now that I’ve had some time to explore each of these cookbooks, I can share my thoughts about them with you:

The Sweetapolita Bakebook

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I’ve been baking since my age was in single digits, but the things I made (at least until I joined French Fridays with Dorie) were homey and old fashioned. I loved going through vintage cookbooks and making cookies, squares, and cakes for my friends and family, but I didn’t think I was capable of bakery-style confections.

I’m still not there, but if any cookbook can help me with that, it’s this one. Rosie Alyea’s recipes are foolproof and her instructions are detailed and precise. They are also fanciful, as it says on the cover. From chalkboard cookies to perfectly charming chocolate robots filled with Pop Rocks to an elegantly tiered cake decorated with a watercolour finish, the book is filled with desserts you’d never imagine you could make at home.

I started small, pairing Rosie’s Simple & Splendid Chocolate Cake with her Glossy Fudge Frosting and filling it with salted caramel ganache. As you can see, I didn’t do it justice. I was a little short on icing sugar. But, I’m going to be baking from this book for years to come – birthdays, anniversaries, or just about any excuse for a party that I can find. I think my decorating will improve over time.

What doesn’t need improvement is the flavour and texture of the cake and the richness of the frosting. The same could be said of the Rainbows & Sprinkles Cake Rosie served at the book launch celebration I attended. The cake uses her Super White Cake recipe and is iced with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but transforms both with vibrant gel paste food colouring.

It’s a feat she performs over and over again in the book, taking her basic cake recipes and coming up with beautiful variations using the fillings, frostings, and techniques she includes in the book, along with an array of sprinkles, edible papers, and garnishes that she makes herself or sources at baking supply stores. Once you’ve worked your way through all the recipes in the book, you’ll be confident enough to bring your own flights of fancy to life.

Seven Spoons

Blueberry Cake

Everyday cooking sounds a little uninspiring and it certainly can be, if it’s left up to an unadventurous or inexperienced cook. But in the hands of Tara O’Brady, it’s a sumptuous exploration of everything the markets have to offer.

Tara’s blog began not long after taking charge of her own kitchen and trying to incorporate the foodways of her family with that of her partner (now husband), Sean. Hers included the south and north Indian foods her parents grew up with, along with dishes from many other cuisines that her food-loving family explored. His were dishes with Irish and English roots, the kind that filled mid-Century community cookbooks, like the butter tarts that inspired the Walnut Cherry Oat Butter Tart Pie Tara served at her book launch celebration.

Seven Spoons represents their own foodway, the one that they’ll pass on to their children. It includes dishes from each of their heritages, along with ones adapted from the flavours that excite cooks today.

There are dishes for every meal and a selection of staples to spur your own creativity in the kitchen. The flavours come from Indian and British Isles classics, but also from the Middle East, Continental Europe, Latin America, and Asia. The ingredients will take you out of the standard supermarket and to the farmers’ market and international grocery stores, reflecting the cosmopolitan food scene today and its emphasis on eating widely and in season.

For new cooks, it’s a good place to start the explorations that will lead to the creation of their own foodways, while experienced cooks will appreciate the depth of flavour and variety of the recipes.

In my own family, my gluten free and vegan partner quickly marked off several recipes, including the Trail Mix Snack Bars and the Green Beans with Mustard Seeds. I was intrigued by the Rhubarb Rose Gin Gimlet and Halloumi in Chermoula. My mother commented that it’s almost the right time to try the Pickled Strawberry Preserves, then opened the book up to the recipe for Blueberry Poppy Seed Snacking Cake and asked if I’d make it for them to take on the trip they’d planned for the weekend.

I was happy to oblige, though I had to omit the poppy seeds (I put in a bit of ginger, instead). It turned out beautifully and the quarter of a cake I kept for myself disappeared quickly – I just couldn’t keep myself from snacking on it. The rest was eaten just as quickly, by all reports.

I’m glad the binding on this book is sturdily stitched, as it’s going to undergo a lot of wear and tear, stains and creases. I’ll be working my way through its recipes over and over again.

Come back next Thursday for a book that combines the homespun goodness of preserves with the pizazz of the cocktail hour.

My Corner of the Internet is Getting a Little Dusty

Tree

I have to admit I’m at a low ebb, creatively. You may have noticed it’s been quiet around here, which makes me worry that this blog is starting to resemble the little wooden Christmas tree I saw today, forgotten on a corner.

I’ve got drafts of posts in various stages of completion, a list of recipes I need to catch up on, and another list of posts to write and places to visit. What I’ve been doing instead is reading, reading, reading.

Here are a few of the rabbit holes I’ve fallen down:

How London’s private development has damaged its public space and where it should look for inspiration, instead.

A reminder that drilling down into a genre or author pool can be an important part of reading widely and well. And another that seeing a theme everywhere can be a slippery thing.

Some validation, finally, for my techiness around Starbucks’ take on chai. Then, a disquisition on the chemistry of tea and a proper cuppa.

I’m hoping that there’s a little inspiration lurking amongst all these links I’ve been chasing down, but I also suspect that I need to shake myself out of my usual routines and wander beyond my regular haunts.

And I could use a little inspiration from you, too. What do you do when you need to be shaken out of a creative funk?

A Year-end Round-up

Favourite Posts

A round up of popular posts on the last day of the year may be a blogging cliché, but it’s nice to look back at what’s resonated with people, especially when some of the top posts of the year reach farther into my blog’s history.

It’s not a surprise that this top 16 draws primarily from my cooking community posts and from posts with a local focus. Those are the twin pillars of my blog, after all.

I’m looking forward to where this blog will take me in 2015, but looking back, I’m quite happy with where I’ve been so far. A very happy New Year to you all. I hope 2015 brings you health, happiness, and adventure.

And so to the list:

16. FFWD – Tuna Rillettes

I’m starting out at the bottom of the list, in true late December countdown fashion. Sixteenth of over 350 posts is still pretty impressive, though. This post is about one of my favourite Dorista snacks of 2014. Tuna rillettes are addictively good, whether used as a dip or a spread.

15. FFWD – Sablefish with Double Carrots

Most of the Doristas who made this came away enamoured with the carrots cooked in carrot juice that anchor the dish. This post also includes a primer on sustainable seafood and a rich, cocktail snack of a quick bread.

14. The Bounty of the Valley

The Fraser Valley isn’t just the place where chefs, bakers, and makers get their ingredients. These days, there are more and more businesses springing up that are making the Valley a destination (or keeping Valley foodies closer to home). The Fraser Valley Food Show has become a showcase for some of the best the Valley has to offer.

13. FFWD – Celery-Celery Soup

The name of this soup piqued my interest, so it makes sense that readers would be curious, too. If you don’t know what to do with the celery root you see in the markets, this would be a good place to start.

12. West Coast Christmas Show

Another event in the Fraser Valley, proving you don’t have to commute to find great, local goods.

11. FFWD – Chanterelles with Cabbage & Nuts

One of my favourite 2014 French Fridays dishes, this is going to appear on my table every fall when the wild mushrooms start showing up in the markets.

10. FFWD – Visitandine

A simple cake and a great way to use up egg whites, especially if you’re making lemon curd. I make sure there’s always one of these in my parents’ freezer in case they need a dessert on the double.

9. FFWD – Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake

This is one of the very first posts I made on the blog and it’s been in the top ten ever since. The cake has become a favourite in my family and beyond, making rum a more prized commodity around here than it ever was before.

8. Vegetable Quinoa Soup with the Taste of Little India

The photos for this soup are about as Pinterest-y as I get, which is why I think this one made the top ten. Besides, who can resist the promise of the name?

7. Eat Local: Kingfisher’s Waterfront Bar & Grill

I love talking about the local food scene and Kingfisher’s has a great food philosophy – two of the reasons I think this post was popular. The third? You got to meet my brother, Kingfisher’s Executive Chef.

6. Patate Alpino

I’ve been experimenting with working with brands a little bit on the blog and this is a post I’m rather proud of. A recipe inspired by the Italian side of the Alps and some French Fridays leftovers, this dish could become a dangerous habit for anyone in reach of a good Italian deli.

5. Cottage Cooking Club – October 2014

The Cottage Cooking Club, organized by the wonderful Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness has become a highlight of each month for me. Cooking through River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall gets me out of the rut of my usual approach to vegetarian cooking, which is how I like to eat at least 60% of the time. I think more people are getting interested in meatless meals, so I’m not surprised this post made the top ten.

4. Happy Birthday, Dorie! A French Fridays Celebration

The French Fridays crew is in the last few months of cooking through Around My French Table, so when our fourth anniversary of cooking together lined up with the release of Dorie’s new book and her birthday, we decided to celebrate. With previews of recipes from Baking Chez Moi, birthday wishes, and fond reminiscences, this was part of a very special round up of posts.

3. Almond-Orange Tuiles – A French Fridays Fail

It’s a commonplace that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. I think that’s why this post climbed so high into the top ten, along with the fact that we can all relate to less-than-perfect results in the kitchen and everywhere else.

2. FFWD – Brioche and Nutella Tartine

This post from early 2012 has been consistently popular, perhaps because the word Nutella is a magnet or maybe because braided brioche is the cutest bread ever. I know I like the reminder of what a good team brioche, marmalade, and Nutella make.

1. Baking Chez Moi – We Begin!

My post on the kick off of another round of Tuesdays with Dorie was my most popular post of the year. How could it not be? Delicious cookies, a re-energized community, and a visit with Dorie Greenspan – no wonder it’s Number One.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Internet Irritants

Growing up, I had a very rigid attitude toward the English language. Those rules were set in stone for me, nonsensical or not. It wasn’t until I went to university and encountered the full edition of the Oxford English Dictionary that I began to soften my stance. That is to say, I concede that the battle for all right has been lost to alright.

Now, I try to follow Stephen Fry in the matter:

I try. However, the curmudgeon in me comes out quite often when I’m surfing the blogosphere. And it seems I’m not the only one. I’ve discovered that there are a number of clever graphics that try to correct some of the most common errors:

Peek, peak, and pique – it’s sneak peek. Yes, it is.

Loose and lose – if I were to loose my patience, I’d be a better person.

Affect and effect – okay, I admit that this can be a difficult one.

Renowned and renown – not reknown, unless you’re trying to coin a word for reacquainting yourself with something or someone. Which you can totally do, I’m not trying to stop you.

Whether and weather – you will be required to recite this poem upon our next meeting. And yes, I am fun at parties.

If I could draw, I’d make one for wary and weary, too. In the meantime, look it up. Just look it up. Please.

And I’ll keep trying to look away.

My latest internet irritant is those images that float around the internet, with quotations dubiously attributed to famous authors. I ran across this article today, which skewers the problem nicely. It irks me to no end to see a self-help affirmation attributed to an author who didn’t write in that cadence or whose work contradicts the sentiment.

So the next time you see one of those pretty pictures, adorned with a delicate font, make me a promise that you’ll run it by Quote Investigator before you allow yourself to be entirely seduced.

What drives you batty when it shows up on your screen?

My Ever Changing Moods

Poppy

I’m going through one of my periodic blogger identity crises. I keep reading that the most important thing to do as a blogger is to narrow focus – if you want anyone to read your blog, that is.

It’s also the one thing I can’t really bring myself to do. I love cooking along with the French Fridays crew and I’m interested in all sorts of questions that fall under the rubric of food – food systems, vegetable gardening, restaurants, cookbook reviews, along with food security and justice. But I’m at least as interested in writing about things that I’ve classed under the broad category of community. How people connect is endlessly fascinating to someone who never really left their childhood shyness behind. Drilling down into what’s offered locally is one of my favourite ways of demonstrating what my hometown is about. It’s also my way of trying to connect with my readers’ sense of what’s similar and different about the places they live. And the ways in which ideas around community are changing, for better or worse, seem important to explore, too. As a Gen Xer with roots in social justice movements, the shifts we’re seeing in income equality, affordability, and inclusiveness seem inextricably wound up in what community is coming to mean in the 21st Century.

All of which is to say that I don’t think I’ll be narrowing my focus any time soon. I suspect that my blog will continue to be as imperfect as my garden can be, with the occasional beautiful bloom to distract from the ever-encroaching weeds.

Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Readers Need Sharpening, As Knives Do

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Literary works may best be seen not as texts with a fixed sense, but as matrices capable of generating a whole range of possible meanings. They do not so much contain meaning as produce it.

Terry Eagleton, from How to Read Literature

Freedom to Read week starts on February 23rd this year and “encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” It’s a time to stand up for works that have been banned or challenged and to speak up for the belief that one’s moral universe will not be shaken or shattered in the face of art that may not be in line with it.

So, it’s with more than a little chagrin that I turn to the topic that I’ve been thinking about for the last week or two. You may have heard that J.K. Rowling has had misgivings about one of the primary relationships in the Harry Potter series. That’s not what I’ve taken issue with; plenty of writers have had second thoughts or regrets about texts that their readers regard as fixed, as this insightful piece from The Millions demonstrates.

What has been bothering me is some of the response to Rowling’s declaration. Particularly the listicles ranking the lousiest matches in literature, with this one being the worst offender. It’s as though the characters from works of literature were lifted out of any contextual relationship to the novels they inhabit and dumped into a plot-driven television drama. It makes me want to confiscate the listicle-assemblers’ copies of the books they refer to and put them into more responsible hands.

Hence, the chagrin.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone down this road (I know, I never learn). I once got into a scuffle with another reader of Tess of the D’Urbervilles on a reading forum, because she was shocked and disgusted that a woman of such low character could be the heroine of a romance [sic] novel. As I recall, I replied with an impassioned retort that Tess’ approach to the gallows was a profoundly feminist critique of the strictures of Victorian class and gender roles and that the angry reader should probably avoid reading literature in future. I just angered her further, mostly because she hadn’t read to the end of the book before she posted her review and now she knew the ending. That was the end of my online literary discussions.

In my defence, if that’s possible, it’s not that I’m taking issue with what people read, but with how they read it. You don’t need to have the same interpretation of Hardy’s novels as I do, but I wish more people would take the time to read literary novels as a whole, rather than focusing solely on the plot.

But, don’t take my word for it. Terry Eagleton’s latest book, How to Read Literature, is a funny, deft primer on how to approach literature. I read it around the same time those damnable listicles came out and I enjoyed the way he works through various aspects of the novel (nod to E.M. Forster intended), demonstrating the pleasure that can be had from paying closer attention to character, structure, and interpretation. It was a nice corrective. I’d also recommend Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, in a similar vein. Whether they’re reminders or road maps for the reader, they encourage deeper, more thoughtful engagements with reading.

In any case, you’re probably better off with the librarians than you are with me. They will encourage you to read deeply in the directions you choose, without any curmudgeonly grumbling about how you do it.

A Somewhat Peripatetic Post

Sometimes when I read, I want to lose myself in the prose, for the sentences to simply transmit themselves into the ideas or images they evoke, without the metadata of sentence construction and word choice simultaneously imposing itself on my consciousness. It might be more accurate to say that this is the least I ask as a reader, because bad prose shudders and stalls, making it impossible to enjoy. A greater pleasure comes from writing that makes me stop in wonder at the perfection of its construction and the clarity of its content.

Michael Chabon’s book of essays, Maps and Legends, has had that effect on me. His sentences are worth re-reading, both to analyze their content and their construction. What might seem contradictory (but should not) is that many of the essays in this collection defend genre, pulp, and graphic fiction. So-called popular fiction has been the subject of a vast reclamation project since at least the early ’90s. For feminists of my generation, a subscription to Bitch Magazine and weekly gatherings to pull literary and cinematic references from episodes of Buffy were legitimate exercises for our University educations.

Legitimacy in this arena has taken a more masculinist turn in recent years, with writers like Chabon and Jonathan Letham building wonderful coming-of-age novels from the bricks of their childhood reading and adventures. At the same time, the Twilight Saga has become emblematic of women’s forays into the field. It’s not surprising in an era in which grrl power has been supplanted by princess power, I suppose. What’s interesting to me in all of this is the way in which male adolescence and its relationship to genre fiction, comics, and pop culture have become the ground for retellings of the hero’s journey, while female adolescence in fiction has become grounded in bastardized versions of 19th Century courtship fiction. (Jane Austen is the subject of an almost slanderous misreading presently.)

So what happens when a new series of novels, featuring a young, female, and (complexly) heroic protagonist, becomes wildly popular? Critical acclaim, a blockbuster movie, and this.

I’m aware that Mr. Stein is a satirist, but I think it’s telling that his examples pit Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace against Justin Bieber and Disney castles. The Hunger Games novels don’t fit into our current conception of female adolescence, instead measuring up to the mythos around the male journey into adulthood. Under the guise of championing adult fiction, reactions like Stein’s seek to put female-centred literature back into its secondary, illegitimate status.

Though the prose doesn’t make me stop in wonder, Collins’ books allowed me to lose myself in the story and to appreciate her themes. I hope their popularity inspires more books exploring female adolescence in positive contexts, both within and without genre conventions. I’d also like to see stories from genderqueer and trans perspectives, too. All young people (and those of us who were once young) deserve to have their journeys traced.