Bill Schubart: Lila and Theron (A Novel)

December 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Lila and Theron (A Novel) – Bill Schubart – Charles Michael Publishing – Hardcover — 9781682613566 – 192 pages- $19.95 – ebook versions available at lower prices – June 6, 2017

This small book is short and sweet in a very good way. Through well written fiction, the book documents and celebrates an imagined place and people in time, that have only recently disappeared from the American landscape. It’s difficult for most of us moderns to imagine life without all the technological conveniences we have come to take for granted today. It was not that many years ago that the isolated mountain communities of northern Vermont were still home to small farmers, whose daily lives were closer in rhythm to the nineteenth century than to even the twentieth, much less the technologically advanced twenty first century of today. Some of these hardy folk still farmed with horses into the 1960s, and many small-scale daily and truck farming operations managed by dint of endless toil, to support the families on the land they had worked for generations.

To most of us, these lives will be as foreign as science fiction. Harsh circumstances often make people harsh, but Schubart’s characters find a way to access their humanity despite all the struggles of life which which they must cope. It’s a joy to get to know these characters and to share the stories of their lives. Schubart, now in his seventies, bridges this time frame. He grew up in northern Vermont, and while his life experience was vastly different from the farm people he writes about here, these are people he knew and loved during the his youth, and it benefits us all that he has brought them to life in this lovely novel.

Thelma dies at nineteen giving birth to a son, Theron. When the son first meets his father, he learns his mother’s death is his fault and can only muster the question, “How did she die?”

Looking away, the father mutters, “She died givin’ birth ta you. An’ I lost all her help and comforts.”

“I have long considered Bill Schubart to be the wisest columnist in America. That same wisdom, deep life experience, and empathy come shining through on every page of his new novel, Lila and Theron. Full of joy, sadness, humor, and insight, Lila and Theron is a clear-eyed celebration of our almost boundless capacity, despite all our human frailties, to love both one another and the place we call home. Over the years, I have known many true and good country people like Lila and Theron, whom I have been proud and honored to call my friends. This is a beautiful book.” – Howard Frank Mosher, author of Marie Blythe and Walking to Gatlinburg.

Bill Schubart has lived with his family in Vermont since 1947. He writes about Vermont in fiction, humor and opinion pieces, is the author of several books, is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio, and active in Vermont community and political life. Learn more about him and his work at his website.

It was a true pleasure for me to share a conversation about Vermont and its people, small-scale farming, and the art of fiction with my old friend, Bill Schubart.

Christopher Benfey: Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay

November 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival – Christopher Benfey – Penguin – paperback – 9780143122852 – 304 pages – $16.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices – February 26, 2013

I found this lovely and compelling book by complete happenstance while visiting North Carolina earlier this year. The redoubtable Regulator Bookshop in Durham had a copy out on its “local interest” shelf, and the cover grabbed my attention immediately.

Not knowing anything about author Benfey, I was surprised and pleased to learn about his background through this complex and rewarding memoir. It’s a book that combines so many different areas of his interest – and mine – built around a complex interweaving of his family’s story and his desire to learn about and understand the people in his life story.

Benfey was raised in Richmond, Indiana, where his father was a chemistry professor at Earlham College. His father’s side of the family were German Jews who escaped Hitler, including aunt and uncle Josef and Anni Albers, who were both central figures at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina (and central also to modern arts and crafts in 20th century America). North Carolina is a nexus, as Benfey’s mother grew up in the longstanding folk pottery region of the state as well.

So Benfey’s story starts as a family history, but moves assuredly through art, geography, cultural history and his own personal journey of discovery as a writer and thinker; as the title itself suggests, “names the three paths, each mapping the experience of relatives or ancestors of mine trying — by art, by travel, or by sheer survival — to find a foothold in the American South.”

There are many well-told stories here, and North Carolina is at the core of it all. Even if you have never explored the cultural and geographical riches of that state, this book will capture your imagination and bring you there. Benfey builds his story much as a brick layer does, carefully assembling the pattern from materials at hand to create a fully formed story all the while.

This is a book I am happy to recommend to almost any reader.

Chris Benfey is a professor at My. Holyoke College, where he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English. He was educated at the Putney School, Earlham College, Guilford College, and Harvard (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature). Benfey is also a journalist, having served as the art critic for Slate, and also is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic, among many others. Chris is a renowned Emily Dickinson scholar, and author of four highly regarded books about the American Gilded Age. His edition of essays on the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff appeared as War and the Iliad in 2005.

Benfey’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and Ploughshares.

This book is among my favorites and I hope you enjoy the conversation I had with the interesting and well-spoken Christopher Benfey as much as I did.

Thomas McNamee: The Inner Life of Cats

November 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions – Thomas McNamee – Hachette Books – Hardcover – 9780316262873 – 288 pages – $27.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices – March 28, 2017

What a fun read! Thomas McNamee’s story begins with the story of finding his own cat, Augusta, and that story becomes the framework for a comprehensive understanding of how cats develop both physiologically and psychologically, and of course how their owners do as well.

McNamee recounts the evolution of cats and much more as he tells the story of his own cat’s adventures. He talks to all kinds of experts, animals behaviorists, activists and researchers to help his readers understand these strange and different animals who have lived with and among humans for so long. His book is well grounded in every way.

The author has strong opinions about these animals. He is clearly someone who loves cats and wants to improve the way other cat lovers live with and treat their pets. He aims for them to have happier and better relationships with them, and I suspect that reading this book will in fact help make that happen for them.

While I am decidedly not a cat person, Tom McNamee is such a fine writer and storyteller, I found this book impossible to put down. I am guessing true cat loving humans will as well.

McNamee is the author of several successful books, including The Grizzly Bear; Nature First: Keeping Our Wild Places and Wild Creatures Wild; a novel, A Story of Deep Delight; The Return of the Wolf to YellowstoneAlice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution; The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance; and most recently, The Killing of the Wolf Number Ten.

McNamee also  wrote the PBS documentary Alexander Calder, which won a Peabody Award and an Emmy. In 2016, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on The Inner Life of Cats.

He was a board member and chairman of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He has also served as a board member of Rare Conservation and the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. After two decades in New York City, he then lived on a cattle ranch in Montana for eight years. He now lives and writes in San Francisco.

Thomas McNamee’s website is here.

The Inner Life of Cats is filled with shining prose, moments of sheer cat joy–and intimate, careful scientific observation. Thomas McNamee’s naturalist’s eye, combined with his humor and heart, bring the always wild, yet domesticated cat into delightful, insightful focus.”
―Cat Warren, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dog Knows

Talking with Tom about this book was a true pleasure. Full disclosure: I published his excellent book, The Killing of Wolf Number Ten (a great book – it is the story of the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park).

Jonathan Lerner: Swords in the Hands of Children

October 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary – Jonathan Lerner – OR Books – Hardcover – 9781944869472 – $22 – 224 pages – December 5, 2017. Ebook versions available at a lower price. Order direct from the publisher, OR Books.

As Writerscast listeners doubtless know, I am interested in books about the sixties, a period in our history that shaped so much of what is now our current worldview and world situation, for better and for worse. This was a period in American history marked by social and political conflict, sparked principally by the Vietnam War. For many young people, it was the time in their lives when political and social idealism flourished, yet for some, directions taken and decisions made, acts committed, that would later appear misguided and wrong.

In the early sixties, Jonathan Lerner was a student at Antioch College, who almost accidentally became a full-time staff member of Students for a Democratic Society, the most powerful organization of the New Left (among its founders, the recently deceased Tom Hayden). In this book, Jonathan recounts the story of his life during the most fraught years of the political upheavals of this era.

Jonathan Lerner was at the center of many of the most important political events of that time. He became a founding member of the Weatherman faction of SDS, which ended up taking over the organization in 1969, and was the editor of its newspaper Fire! and an “above ground” representative of the Weather Underground organization, that was responsible for much of the far left spawned violence of the era.

The Weather Underground ultimately carried out a campaign of bombings across America. Some of its members died, many stayed underground for years, and some went to jail. Lerner tells some compelling stories about this time in particular and the people he worked and lived with. Overall, he seems to have been almost an accidental radical, who like many in the sixties, “went with the flow” of events and people around him, trying to find his place in a complicated environment.

Jonathan tells his story with brutal honesty, questioning much of what he once took for granted, as an insecure gay man existing in an environment that was not supportive in any way. This memoir has much to offer to those of us still seeking to understand the politics and culture of our youth, as well as for those too young to have experienced the sixties directly.

Lerner is the author of the novels Caught in a Still Place and Alex Underground, and is today a journalist focusing on architectural, urbanist and environmental issues. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York state with his husband.

We had a great conversation in our wide ranging conversation. Visit Jonathan’s website here.

“Imagine if your favorite uncle, a brutally honest, worldly, self-reflective gay raconteur, had been, as a twenty year-old, a lieutenant in an underground guerrilla army dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. Jonathan Lerner is that favorite uncle you never had, telling unbelievable true stories―no bullshit―from the ‘revolution’ fifty years ago. This is the closest you’ll ever get to being there.” ―Mark Rudd, national secretary of SDS, founding member of the Weather Underground and author of Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen

Elizabeth Farnsworth: A Train through Time – A Life, Real and Imagined

October 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

A Train through Time: A Life, Real and Imagined – Elizabeth Farnsworth – Counterpoint – Hardcover – $25.00 – 160 pages – February 14, 2017 – ebook versions available at lower prices

“I began this book with a sense of discovery and finished it in a state of exaltation. Along the way it broke my heart. It has been a long time since I read a book so moving, plain spoken and beautiful. The instant I finished it, I went back to the beginning and started in again.” ―Michael Chabon

This slim – and gorgeously produced – memoir is one of the most striking and memorable books I have read recently. I have to simply echo what Chabon said about it – Elizabeth Farnsworth has written something very special, a book that does not fit easily into our conception of book categories – and that is a good thing. Her book is an exploration of childhood memories of loss and of family life that woven together with more recent stories of her work as a journalist and documentary film maker, are built into a fictional structure. The book forms an almost dream state to carry the author (and the reader) through her story.

Farnsworth interrogates her own understanding of events, real and imagined, to understand the arc of her life. It is a truly magical journey of self and psyche.

A Train through Time is illustrated with the remarkable photo art of Mark Serr, whose works contribute to the ethos and sensibility of the book, as well as providing us with a beautiful and dreamy cover image.

Of course it helps that Farnsworth is a fine writer and a terrific storyteller. I was deeply moved by this book, and really enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with the Ms. Farnsworth about her story, about trains, journeys, and life in general. As an experienced television personality, she is very comfortable in recorded conversation and we had a great talk together, which I hope you will enjoy.

Elizabeth Farnsworth is a filmmaker and a foreign correspondent. For many years, she was the chief correspondent on the PBS NewsHour hosted by Jim Lehrer. During her career, she traveled widely to report on stories in Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Haiti, Iraq, and Iran and many other places. Farnsworth grew up in Topeka, Kansas, has a B.A. from Middlebury College, an M.A. in history from Stanford University and now lives in Berkeley, California.

Her documentaries include The Judge and the General (2008) and The Gospel and Guatemala (1983).

You can learn more about the author and A Train Through Time at the Counterpoint website here.


Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

September 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America – Nancy MacLean – Viking – Hardcover – 9781101980965 – $28.00 – 368 pages – June 13, 2017

I will say this clearly and forthrightly: whatever your political opinions or positions, you must read this book. It shines an important light on the history of what has now become the most potent force in modern American politics. This book reveals in detail how the Koch brothers and other shadowy billionaires’ political philosophy has been weaponized in an ongoing war against democratic beliefs and institutions.

Professor MacLean came across this historical record more or less by accident, while she was researching the Nobel Prize-winning political economist, James McGill Buchanan, the principal architect of the ideas and institutions  the Koch brothers and their allies have harnessed to radically alter the American political landscape in their distorted image of “economic libertarianism.” This philosophy fully recognizes that anti-democratic efforts are necessary to secure the wealth of the few against the “predations” of the democratic majority, and all their work for the last forty years or more has been aimed toward controlling and weakening democratic institutions. They have been remarkably successful in their efforts.

There is so much to learn in this book, yet still so much more for us to uncover, and ultimately then, so much that needs to be done by those who feel the need to defend democratic liberalism and American institutions. It is remarkable to learn that this effort is essentially part of a longstanding effort to reach far back into our history to undo FDR’s democratic reforms, as well as those of JFK, LBJ, and the civil rights movement. And that Charles Koch is so ironically a follower of the principles of that old Bolshevik, V.I. Lenin.

We learn here that Koch and his cronies have built a secret cadre of true believers who want to do what their hero Buchanan did in Pinochet’s Chile, which was to use the institutions of government to control and contain democracy. They have come a long way toward succeeding in our own country, as most citizens are completely unaware of what they are doing, especially with their takeover of the judiciary. And in Trump’s America, they are free to have their way with us.

One way you can tell Nancy MacLean has made an impact with her research is the level and sheer ferocity of mostly personal attacks from the right against her. Those who post in opposition seem to have neither read the book, nor care to think about the author’s actual work. One of the tools used by the Koch-financed opponents of democracy is the personal attack and what they call the “increased transaction cost” for anyone who opposes their views. Since they usually cannot win intellectual or even political arguments, they prefer to disparage and attack those who dare stand against them on other grounds than reason.

I urge listeners to read this book, think about what MacLean has uncovered, and then, if you agree with what she says, use what you learn from this book to stand up for freedom and democracy against oligarchy.

“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . [MacLean] takes the time to meticulously trace how we got here. . . . If you’re worried about what all this means for America’s future, you should be. . . . And if someone you know isn’t convinced, you have just the book to hand them.”
—NPR

“It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.”
—George Monbiot, The Guardian

“[A] riveting, unsettling account of ‘Tennessee country boy’ James McGill Buchanan, key architect of today’s radical right.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

Nancy MacLean is also the author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times “noteworthy” book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough. She is currently the William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, and lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Jeremy Brecher: Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual

September 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual – Jeremy Brecher – PM Press – Paperback – 978-1-62963-385-5 – $12.95 – 128 pages – April 2017 – ebook versions available at lower prices.

For years leading up to the 2016 election, when Americans alarmingly voted (somehow) for a president who maintains the bizarre fiction that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, we have been heavily propagandized and brainwashed by inaccurate and misleading information about climate science supplied by corporate financed sources. Only half of us believe that climate change is caused by human activities, something that scientists overwhelmingly recognize is true, based on actual data.

Still, millions of our fellow citizens do understand the danger to human life and our natural environment by human caused climate change. So many of us are searching for ways to make a real impact on the future through concrete actions. The scale and scope of what we face, and the impediments we face daily to rational thought and action are daunting and sometimes overwhelming.

We need tools – both to understand what is happening in our world, and to help us act positively to make change and to oppose those who seek to diminish and undermine our efforts.

Jeremy Brecher is a long time organizer and thinker about social change. He has been involved in environmental issues for almost thirty years. He puts much of what he has learned into Against Doom, this short but powerful book that I can recommend to any and all of us who want to join the global movement for change. What he calls “climate insurgency” is a strategy for using people power to realize our common interest in protecting the climate. It uses mass, global, nonviolent action to challenge the legitimacy of public and corporate officials who are perpetrating climate destruction. This may be our best hope for saving the planet and human civilization, while at the same time helping change that civilization for the better.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual provides guidance in how we can put this strategy into action and succeed. It’s an essential read now. Listen to my optimistic conversation with Jeremy and go buy this book!

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including Save the Humans? Common Preservation in Action and the now-classic labor history Strike!, recently published in a revised fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. He has been writing about climate protection since 1988, most recently in his book Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2015). Jeremy is a cofounder of the Labor Network for Sustainability and lives in rural northwest Connecticut. Jeremy was arrested in the early White House sit-ins against the Keystone XL pipeline.

There are many organizations and websites working on climate change insurgency efforts. Visit Jeremy’s own site for a good introduction or go here for a list of reputable climate change nonprofit organizations you can work with.

Madeleine Blais: To the New Owners-A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir

August 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

To the New Owners: A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir – Madeleine Blais – Atlantic Monthly Press – Hardcover – 978-0-8021-2657-3 – $26.00 – 272 pages – July 2017 (ebook versions available at lower prices)

Madeleine Blais is a truly wonderful writer – she began her writing career as a journalist, now teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts, and won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1994 book In These Girls Hope is a Muscle. But I had never really read her work before my friend George Gibson, knowing I had spent time on Martha’s Vineyard, recommended this book to me. Reading this book was a great experience for me, one of those times when I found myself reading sections aloud to my wife, who spent most of her life going to Martha’s Vineyard each summer. This book is full of beautiful passages about place, family, and the magical experiences that summer vacations engender for so many of us.

Back in the 1970s, Madeleine Blais married into the Katzenbach family, and with them, their somewhat rustic vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard. Located on an old one-lane dirt road, the house was more a shack, without electricity or running water. But for spending old fashioned quiet vacations decompressing from daily life, the house was ideal, and very representative of the kinds of places that were then common in traditional east coast vacation spots.

The house was near Tisbury Great Pond, facing the ocean and open to the sky, and over the years, the old shack was rebuilt and modernized, but the more or less rustic lifestyle of the family and their visitors remained a constant. There was no heat, no TV, and no telephone, and typically terrible cell service. But as Blais documents, the days were marked by time spent on the beach and on the Vineyard’s beautiful waters, meals prepared and enjoyed with extended family and their many visiting friends, all logged in a series of notebooks made by the family over the decades – almost half a century of family stories to be preserved and loved.

But life is full of changes and with the passing of the original family owners, in 2014, the house was sold. In To the New Owners, Madeleine Blais tells some of these stories of the house and her family’s life within it, and stories of the Vineyard, including some of its recent history, and some of the people whose visits have now made it so well known.

But this book is really about the places that matter in our lives, the power of place to ground and center our lives and the importance of memory and stories to help us understand who we are.

While this book is a memoir about this one distinctive east coast island, it will resonate for the many of us who have experienced well-loved places that have changed over time. Change is the constant feature of modern life, and family summer places like this one may be disappearing forever. New generations will find their own ways to understand and appreciate the places around which they build their histories. Those of us who have had the pleasure of experiencing Martha’s Vineyard will likely love this book as much as we love the island itself, and remind us of our own stories and the memories that keep us whole.

Madeleine Blais was a reporter for the Miami Herald for years before joining the faculty of the School of Journalism at the University of Massachusetts. She is the author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle, Uphill Walkers, and The Heart Is an Instrument, a collection of her journalism. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Aside from being a fine writer, Madeleine also tells great stories, and gave us a wonderful interview. Special thanks to George Gibson for recommending this excellent book to me.

“For anyone who has ever been curious about life on the Vineyard, or fantasized about settling in, Blais offers a diverting portrait . . . Blais has stitched together [the memoir] from the writings and stories of others, as well as her own wistful, often wry observations . . . Throughout, Blais exhibits a veteran reporter’s instinct for even-handedness.”―Boston Globe

Patrick Lynch: A Field Guide to Long Island Sound

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

A Field Guide to Long Island Sound: Coastal Habitats, Plant Life, Fish, Seabirds, Marine Mammals, and Other Wildlife – Patrick Lynch – Yale University Press – paperback (flexibind) – $27.50 – 9780300220353 – 416 pages

I grew up around Long Island Sound, and have lived near it most of my life. I have always loved the shoreline and the water, the birds, marine life and the landscapes of the coast, and I have enjoyed its beauty and diversity, and even spent time as an amateur naturalist studying its ecosystems, but it was not until I read Pat Lynch’s comprehensive guidebook that I felt I fully understood this magnificent environment.

This book is beautifully illustrated, and full of fascinating and readable information about the natural history of Long Island Sound, and its varying New York and Connecticut coastlines. This estuarine body of water is surrounded by millions of people – and threatened not only by over-population and industry, but now by climate change as well. While we have made a great deal of progress in recent decades in improving the ecological health of our waters, we must increase our level of involvement now, as climate change will have tremendous impacts on the all important marshlands of the Sound and other coastal zones.

Long Island Sound comprises a diverse collection of marine, estuarine, and terrestrial ecosystems, and is located in one of the most densely populated regions in the United States. The Sound and its coastlines are home not only to myriad species of plants and animals—from shorebirds and turtles to whales, seals, and fish—but also to more than twenty million people.

Author and illustrator Patrick Lynch has put together a thoroughly engaging guide to this incredibly complex set of environments. The book includes maps, photographs, and drawings, and covers every aspect of the Sound’s various ecosystems and locales.

On reading the book, I felt that I learned more than I have done in a lifetime of living on or near the Sound and for me, it is now an indispensable companion whenever I walk the coastline or am lucky enough to get out on the water near where I live. If you live anywhere near New York or Connecticut, this book will help you fully understand the importance and breadth of the Sound environments. And even if you live in another part of the country, Long Island Sound is well worth learning about, just as any other great natural area would be. I only wish we could have had this conversation at the beach or some other interesting outdoor venue, but the Sound is too windy for making intelligible recordings.

Patrick J. Lynch is a former senior digital officer in Yale University’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications and is an award-winning author, designer, illustrator, and photographer. He lives in North Haven, Connecticut. He was kind enough to spend some time with me in New Haven recently to talk about this book and his sense of the future of Long Island Sound.

Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression – Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe – HarperCollins – paperback now available – 9780062216427 – 336 pages – $15.99 – ebook versions available at lower prices.

First, let me say that this is one of the most interesting, readable and thought-provoking works of American history I have read in a long time. It’s interesting to think about how two writers can work together to create a consistent and compelling authorial voice – Andrew and Jane have done that brilliantly. One must assume they have a very special marriage that enables them to both collaborate and live happily together.

If you are interested in food and how the American palate has changed over time, this book will certainly have much to offer. But I think the story here is broader than it may first appear. It’s not just a “culinary history” but a comprehensive social history of one of the most important periods of American life told through the issues surrounding food and nutrition in a challenging time.

Yes, it is “an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced – and how it transformed America’s culinary culture,” but I think the larger story is that this book uses food as the lens to through which to view how Americans lived during our greatest economic and cultural crisis.

History writing that brings the past to life and engages us in the human dimensions of the big moments of the past is real storytelling. This kind of writing helps us understand and sympathize with the people who came before us. It makes us better able to deal with our own crises, of which there are indeed many.

So this book is important whether food is “your thing” or not. I’d recommend reading it no matter your specific interests, just because it will make you think, will make you care, and will help you to feel that the past really is always prologue. It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk in person with Jane and Andrew about A Square Meal.

Jane Ziegelman is the director of the Tenement Museum’s culinary center and is founder and director of Kids Cook!, a multiethnic cooking program for children. Her writing on food has appeared in numerous publications, and she is the coauthor of Foie Gras: A Passion.

Andrew Coe is a writer and independent scholar specializing in culinary history, and the author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, which was a finalist for a James Beard Award. He appeared in the documentaries The Search for General Tso and Eat: The Story of Food. Jane and Andrew live in Brooklyn, New York. And recently, A Square Meal was announced the winner of the 2017 James Beard Award for best nonfiction book of the year.

NPR’s Fresh Air did a wonderful interview (called “Creamed, Canned and Frozen”) with Jane and Andy about this book in August, 2016. And I interviewed Andy about his book, Chop Suey for Writerscast a few year ago.

Photo of the authors by Sasha Maslov for The New York Times.

 

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