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Books to Watch | August 25, 2020

August 25, 2020

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Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights five new books we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream by Alvin Cailan with Alexandra Cuerdo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I’ve never been much for reality television, but I became instantly addicted to Top Chef from the start—the mise en place relays, restaurant wars, Last Chance Kitchen, the rotating panel of foodie and cheffy judges—I love every food obstacle they face en route to becoming “top chef.” Some of the most interesting finales are the ones when the contestants are challenged to create a multi-course meal that shows their life-long culinary journey, their autobiography on a plate. Filipino-American chef Alvin Cailan’s first cookbook, Amboy (short for “American Boy”) is the cookbook equivalent of that meaningful challenge. Each chapter starts with an essay from Cailan, is rounded out with a conversation with his co-writer Alexandra Cuerdo, and then presents a handful of recipes that epitomize that time in his life. From his upbringing in suburban Los Angeles and his summer visits to family back in the Philippines to his culinary school years in Portland and his most recent stint in New York, we are taken on a food adventure of remarkable breadth. He features traditional Filipino dishes (Pancit Bihon or Noodles with Vegetables and Lechon or Roast Pork), elevated mash-ups of Filipino and American classics (Tilapia Fish Sticks, Cheeseburger Lumpia, Hot Dogs with Garlic Fried Rice), and recipes he learned right before culinary school (Italian gravies, French mother sauces). Of course, no Alvin Cailan cookbook would be complete without recipes from Eggslut, his world-famous food truck-turned-breakfast empire: Bacon-Leek Tart, The Nita, and The Slut. If you know, you know

But what I find most touching about this cookbook is not the Instagrammable dishes he is most associated with, but rather his profound love for the humble pan de sal, Filipinio sweet rolls. “In my house, pan de sal is just as important as rice.” We all have foods from our childhood that bring us endless comfort, make us feel safe and warm and at home. If we’re lucky these recipes become touchstones—whether we eat them daily or yearly—that ground us to our families, our cultures, and to our time on this earth. We cannot fathom life without them. As Cailan says in his sweet love letter to pan de sal: “I pray every night that God takes care of me and doesn’t curse me with a disease that will take you away from me.” Amen, Amboy. Let’s eat. (BRM)

 

The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm--and Built a New Life by Sarah Frey, Ballantine

We come from a part of the country where it is common to talk about how many generations we are removed from the farm. “The farm” is a part of our families, and its history is as rich and complicated (and sometimes contentious) as our family’s. My wife grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Decatur, Illinois. My mother moved off the family farm in Shullsburg, Wisconsin—the only home she had ever known—though there were officially two houses, because a new one (with indoor plumbing!) was built when her uncle fell through the second floor of the first house—only when she moved out with my father to Rockford, Illinois. And when our family later fled the closing factories of Rockford in the early ‘80s, we moved to a farm outside Genoa City where we paid rent in my mother’s farm work, and my father drove trucks for my uncle’s lumber yard. We only lived there for a short time, but it’s where some of my best and earliest memories were made. The house those memories were made in and around is due to be torn down soon—if it hasn’t been already. My wife’s childhood home was bulldozed to the ground about five years back. The (second) one my mother grew up in was saved by an Amish family, who I’m told grow tobacco up nearly to the front door. We escaped, I suppose, but we lost a lot in losing our family farms.

Sarah Frey escaped in a different way—by staying, and saving her family farm, and making a massive success out of it. The story of how she did it, the story of her life so far, is told in her new book, The Growing Season. It is a story of her family, and of her farm, “The Hill,” which she has taken to new heights. It is rich and complicated, and sometimes contentious. It’s the story of a hardscrabble life, hard work, and hard cash honesty earned. It is the story of how she created wealth starting from where she grew up, pulling it out of the rich clay and mud. She is now the CEO of Frey Farms, which has acres of productive farmland all over the country, and is known as “the pumpkin queen.” As she writes: 

If you’ve ever bought a melon or a pumpkin in America, chances are you are my customer.

But even as she has expanded the business all over the country, she has stayed on the land she grew up on, and reading her book feels a lot like going home. (DJJS)

 

Pluses and Minuses: How Math Solves Our Problems by Stefan Buijsman, Penguin Books  

The buildings we move through, the bridges we cross, the economy we work in, even how we predict the very weather around us, it’s all predicated on mathematics. I’ll be the first to say that the maths make my head hurt, but there is also a beauty in it all beyond its application and the ways it helps order a chaotic world. But for all it can help, it remains in ways mysterious, with no clear answer to some of its most profound questions—such as how much it really mirrors reality, or even perhaps creates it. Math, for all its usefulness and practical applications, is at its core abstract, and increasingly so as it gets more advanced. But even then, it is relevant. It helps us better understand the world around us, and to build it. The world is constantly being reordered by mathematics, by the algorithms that power our online life, and by the economic policies that affect our political life. It is, in short, extremely important to know something about maths. 

Stefan Buijsman helps us do that, and puts it all into perspective, in a new book, Pluses and Minuses. It explains why it is so important to know something about integrals and differentials, calculus and statistics, and teaches you about them all along the way. If you’re interested in the upcoming election, for instance, it helps to know how polls are conducted to not only gauge opinion, but also to shape it, and how they are used to shape policy.

What methods are used, how a poll is conducted or what an average is based on can affect how we see the world and how we make decisions. 

So it is not just how math can be used, but how it can be misused, and used to mislead. That is the power of the maths. But when used correctly and as accurately as possible, when used to be a better mirror of our world we live in, it is perhaps the best tool we have to solve some of our most pressing problems. (DJJS)

 

Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, HarperOne

Though author Rebekah Taussig is disabled, and has been for nearly her entire life, she writes in the introduction to Sitting Pretty:

I'd never considered disability an identity worth understanding, let alone celebrating...

Beyond the differences between disabled and able-bodied, sadly, many humans have been socially misled to strive to fit in rather than acknowledge and honor what makes themselves stand out. As our society continues to work toward better representation of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and the abundant intersections of these and other identities, stories like Taussig's are ones we should pay attention to. In the lives of others, we can sometimes find pieces of ourselves.

By listening to the stories of others in the disabled community, Taussig says:

Their accounts deepened my understanding of my own history and gave me new pictures to reimagine what it can mean to be a disabled woman.

The key here is the plural form of "accounts," because one disabled experience can not speak for all disabled experiences. Taussig shares her story not so that the reader can learn how to interact with all disabled people, but so that we can all start conversations with each other about the varied struggles and successes she presents. Her voice is a fairly cheerful one as she introduces her no-nonsense family of eight ("and several rabbits") who didn't do much to accommodate for her cancer diagnosis or paralyzation by the age of three. No ramps or handrails were installed, and Rebekah still climbed to the top bunk bed at the end of a day that may be filled with playful wrestling with her siblings and pranking strangers in Walmart "by leaving me and my wheelchair overturned on the ground, wailing and waiting for people to rush to my aid."

Every coming-of-age story is bitter-sweet, but Taussig's quick transition from innocence to feeling like "a burden on the people around me" is particularly affective. Her struggles go beyond direct bullying and confront ableism, which is a very big idea that she attempts to compress into the definition: "the process of favoring, fetishizing, and building the world around a mostly imagined, idealized body while discriminating against those bodies perceived to move, see, hear, process, operate, look, or need differently from that vision." There's a lot more to learn and think about concerning this and other forms of discrimination, so I hope you begin soon by picking up a copy of Sitting Pretty. (GMC)

Learn more about Rebekah on her Instagram, @sitting_pretty.

 

You Belong: A Call for Connection by Sebene Selassie, HarperOne

"You belong" is a simple yet solid statement that also happens to be the slogan for two favorite places of mine in Milwaukee: One is Planet Fitness, a national franchise that makes the gym affordable and inclusive with their $10/month memberships and "Judgment Free Zone" commitments. The other is our local food truck park called Zócalo whose name comes from the Spanish word for "plaza," the common meeting space for a large and diverse community of people. The beauty of the term "You belong" is that it can be employed by many different groups without losing its significance. The more we encounter it in the places we go or the groups we engage in, the more we will see, as Sebene Selassie puts it:

The truth: we all belong to it all.

Her own sense of belonging has increased significantly since her days as a half Ethiopian and half Eritrean, "the tomboy black immigrant girl" of the white neighborhoods she lived in. Fifteen years ago, after being diagnosed with cancer at 34, Selassie sought out allopathic and alternative medicines and started practicing Buddhism and then added teaching meditation as ways to experience and investigate belonging. It's a complicated subject, made more difficult by technology, Covid quarantine, and hate crimes amongst other issues that she does not shy from covering in You Belong, but Selassie speaks openly, realistically, and hopefully on improving our connections to our own feelings of disconnection in order to open ourselves to learn and work towards belonging. (GMC)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Sisters by Daisy Johnson"Another book published today is Sisters by Daisy Johnson. It's a tense story that explores the varied and shifting relationships amongst family members. Though the two girls get into typical bouts of mischief, there is a feeling of something more sinister crouching in the shadows of their childhood in Whitby, England. I'm eager to read more of Johnson's work, especially since she is the youngest person ever shortlisted for the Man Booker prize."

Gabbi Cisneros, Digital Marketing Specialist

 

 

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