Book Review: Hidden History of Detroit by Amy Elliot Bragg

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Mention the city of Detroit and, at best, people might think of the auto industry or classic Motown songs. Yet, there is a history to Detroit that dates long before Henry Ford and the Supremes. And this history comes alive in Amy Elliott Bragg’s Hidden History of Detroit.

Inspired by her blog Night Train to Detroit, Michigan native, Bragg writes of Detroit’s beginnings, from its founding by the expedition leader Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to its namesake the Grand Monarque of Ville de Troit to the advent of the automobile at the turn of the last century.

What’s striking about the Hidden History of Detroit is how some of the issues facing the city’s early years are familiar to large American cities in 2012. Detroit’s history has had its share of political rivalries, labor upheaval, ethnic strife and crumbling infrastructure. Not happy with the roads you drive on? Detroit’s earliest “paved” streets were made of wood, which took on rather odd smells when they got wet.

Yet, Detroit grew due to an entrepreneurial spirit long before Henry Ford invented the Model T. Industries like lumber, tobacco, liquor, media and pharmaceuticals were quite successful and inspired many people to find their fortunes in Detroit.

Detroit’s early years were also rich with larger than life characters like the “boy governor” Stevens Thomson Mason, who was acting governor at the tender age of twenty-five. Then there is James Scott, a millionaire gambler and raconteur who left the city a considerable sum of $600,000 when he died but with one caveat — a statue had to be erected in his honor,

The ladies also had an impact on Detroit’s history. Heiress Clara Ward, the Kim Kardashian of her day, scandalized people with her multiple marriages, wild partying and performances at the Folies-Bergere. Sadly, she allegedly died a pauper and in her obituary the Detroit News just had to mention how Clare Ward had been spurned and shunned by her family and companions.

One compelling chapter focuses on early Detroit’s penchant for parties and drinking and is simply called “Liquor.” While many American towns were founded by religious folks who eschewed alcohol, Detroit was founded by traders, and as Bragg puts it, “…where you had trade, you had booze.” These parties were quite rowdy and made frat parties look like prayer circles. I laughed out loud when she described one party as being “liver crushing.”

I have to admit I was overwhelmed at times by all of the information Bragg provides in this slim tome (less than 200 pages). At times I thought I would need to organize the names, dates, facts and figures on an Excel spreadsheet. She certainly did her homework, and I can only imagine her glee over finding out another interesting tidbit about Detroit’s history while doing her research. The book’s illustrations and photographs also aid in telling Detroit’s history.

Thanks to Bragg’s exhaustive research, the early days of Detroit come alive with interesting facts and figures who are fleshed-out human beings. This is no dusty and musty history text book. Hidden History of Detroit is fun read for any history buff, and you don’t have be a citizen of Detroit to enjoy it. It may even make you wonder, “Hmm, what’s the hidden history of my city?”

Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Book Review: The Art of Eating In-How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway

A few years ago Cathy Erway made a decision — for two years she would not eat out in any of New York’s 41oh732dmhl-_sx330_bo1204203200_five boroughs. Instead, she would discover the pleasures of cooking and eating at home, and she’d keep a blog called Not Eating Out in New York, tracking her culinary adventures.

Her foray back into the kitchen is now chronicled in the book The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove.

I can’t imagine never eating out in New York, one of the best restaurant cities in the world. I was intrigued on how Erway was going to accomplish this monumental task. Cooking can be a lot of fun, and there is something very satisfying about eating a meal you made yourself. At the same time, cooking large meals with lots of ingredients can be time-consuming and costly, and constantly trying new recipes that are both delicious and nutritious can be a challenge.

The Art of Eating In started out strong. In the beginning, Erway gives a brief history of restaurants — the first of which began in the Middle East during the late tenth century. The first known restaurants appeared in the Western world in Paris (where else?) in 1766. Today, we have our pick of everything from fast food joints to high-end eateries anywhere in the world. Needless to say, this is having a huge impact on both our wallets and our waistlines.

Dollars and pounds aside, what Erway really wanted to do was start a blog about her project (ah yes, the blogging-your-way-to-fame tactic). She tried her hand at freeganism, dumpster diving for food restaurants and shops just throw out. She was appalled by the amount of food she found, many of it still safe to eat. Erway also foraged for edible plants at a local park.

Eventually, she got involved with New York’s supper clubs, underground clubs where people share all kinds of meals. Before long, she became semi-famous in these circles, both for her blog and for her dishes, even winning an award for her no-knead bread.

But as the book went on I found myself getting irritated, not inspired. Rarely does Erway mention a mishap in the kitchen or a recipe gone awry. Even the most seasoned gourmands make a mistake. Furthermore, despite being just out of school and nebulously employed, she seems to have oodles of money for supper club fees, exotic and expensive ingredients and fancy cookware. Never does she really break down a budget for her two-year experiment, so there’s little commentary on the economic side of the project, which would have been helpful.

Plus, every one of Erway’s friends seems to be a hipster “foodie” and completely bowled over by every single dish. This seemed highly unrealistic to me. Surely someone must have turned their noses up at something.

Furthermore, it doesn’t help that Erway’s writing is rather dry and not very engaging. After a while, I just didn’t care about her little experiment, and ordered Chinese food in protest. I would have liked to read some of her initial blog posts to compare to the actual book. Even the recipes interspersed throughout left me rather cold.

In the end, The Art of Eating In is like fast food meal — you feel stuffed, but you won’t feel satisfied.

Guest Review: The Drowning Guard by Linda Lafferty, review by Jen Locke

Many of you might remember Jen Locke. She wrote a guest review of the book A Winsome Murder by author James DeVita a while back. I met Jen at our alma mater Alverno College and we remain friends to this day. She keeps a blog known as The Rectory of Doubt where she writes intelligent and interesting posts about feminism, technology, history, politics, current events, arts and culture and one of her favorite hobbies, knitting. 
I have a limited knowledge of world history, with bits and pieces of European and Egyptian history comprising the majority of what’s in my head. I had no idea this was based on real history – people that actually lived and events that actually occurred. I picked this up partly because someone told me it was like a version of 1001 Arabian Nights with the gender roles reversed.

I feel that categorization is a poor representation of the essence of this novel. It’s more about a woman’s independence and how she was able to provide independence, in a way, to other women in a patriarchal system with very strict rules.

It’s also about imperialism and how people can assimilate into their abductors’ culture, but how some never lose their affiliation with their home country and religion.

And a love story. Unlikely men and women finding love with each other. And the love that ties siblings together for life.

I like reading contemporary fiction written by Muslims, some translated from the Arabic. This can be difficult to find, but more of that is working its way into our culture. This is a good complement to that since it gives a little historical perspective wrapped in a good story.

I’d recommend this to anyone interested in learning about the culture of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. Also to people who like a good love story. And those who like political intrigue.

Originally published at the blog Rectory of Doubt.

Book Review: Poor Man’s Feast –A Story of Love, Desire and the Simple Art of Cooking by Elissa Altman

Poor Man's FeastI’m a big lover of food, finding great joy just puttering in my kitchen with a pot roast in my slow cooker and making and baking a couple dozen of my buttermilk cheesy biscuits.

I’m also a big lover of memoirs of all kinds, thoroughly enjoying the stories of people from all walks of life with interesting stories to tell.

So I was pretty thrilled to find Poor Man’s Feast by food blogger Elissa Altman. Would Poor Man’s Feast be a fully-satisfying literary meal or would it leave me hungry for more?

The answer? Well, both.

Altman is a native New Yorker, and throughout Poor Man’s Feast she never lets you forget it. Her love of food is something she shared with her father, and it was how these two bonded as parent and child.

On the other hand, there was Altman’s mother, a total glamour puss who didn’t just disdain food and refrain from eating; she actually seemed to fear food and her own appetite.

Once Altman got older she refines her love of food by working at Dean and Deluca (hmm, just like Felicity), working throughout various departments and spending a big part of her paycheck on Dean and Deluca’s culinary delights. Dean and Deluca is a touchstone for Altman, one she harkens back to throughout Poor Man’s Feast.

Altman also comes to terms with being a lesbian and Poor Man’s Feast focuses a great deal on her relationship with Susan, a woman who would become the love her life.

On paper, Altman and Susan couldn’t seem more different. Whereas Altman is a sophisticated city slicker, with a finely-tuned taste and palate only a place like New York City could offer (yeah, right—Milwaukee has just been named a great food town), Susan is a small-town gal whose love of food is too low class for the likes of Altman.

And it was these aspects of Poor Man’s Feast that left me unsatisfied. Though Altman tells us of her love for Susan, she never really seems to show it. Altman, at turns, is dismissive of Susan and her family, and their less sophisticated lives and food choices. Perhaps, Altman’s dryer than baking powder humor was supposed to be witty but I found it way too sarcastic and not funny at all. Only as Poor Man’s Feast come to a close did I truly feel Altman’s love for Susan and her growing acceptance of Susan’s family and their plebian taste in food.

Perhaps I would have liked Poor Man’s Feast better if Altman would have focused more on her relationship with her father and how they bonded over their love of all things food. It was these lovingly-written passages that truly touched my heart and made my mouth water with beautifully written