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This installment: Food Rules, delightfully illustrated; an Irish-American returns to the old country; England in the 1900s; and a NYC gentrification satire.

 

   Food Rules an eater's manual by Michael Pollan

 

It's been around since 2009 as a pithy, serious-looking little book that cuts through all the dietary hype, trends, and latest theories to return us to common sense and pleasure vis- a- vis what we all do every day: eat. But this is a new illustrated version, and the artist is my all-time favorite, Maira Kalman. What a wonderful marriage of sensible yet often witty words and utterly exuberant, haimish pictures. (That's Yiddish for "homey.") She can tackle a concept like the soul of a carrot and make it sing. Pollan reminds us often to eat in company, and I want a place at the table for every one of Kalman's glorious feasts. A treasure!

 

   This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon

 

Bruno is at a crossroads. His job has ended and an significant election looms. (It's 2009.) So why not make that Irish-American pilgrimage and check out his roots while trying to get his head together? However these distant relatives are not hospitable. Hugh, his second cousin, is grumpily recuperating from an accident and his daughter Della is reluctantly tending him and they don't know Bruno from Adam. However he and Della make a sweet connection which takes a while to flourish on such stony ground. She has her own disappointments and sorrows, one of which is very big as we discover towards the end. I like books that start with a tangle of frustrations and achieve resolution, and this one fills the bill nicely.

 

   Crusoe's Daughter by Jane Gardam

 

Gardam is a wonder--a very odd, piquant stylist leading us into a world of eccentric souls. This is an early work, narrated by Polly Flint, an orphan who's fixated on Defoe's classic. England in the early 1900's.  Polly has a strange life in a house full of women on the coast near a marsh. All sorts of reversals of fortune, an incipient romance thwarted by The War, and Polly ends up drafted as a teacher and very good at it indeed despite complete lack of experience. The ending brings surprising elements home. Richly-drawn characters and a great sense of zeitgeist.

 

   Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

 

Tribeca in NYC brings together all sorts of folks with artistic pretensions and the money to move into the territory the original artists were forced out of through gentrification. It's a ripe field for satire, and Greenfeld makes the most of it. Through their connection with a local private school, a clutch of dads meet for breakfast after dropping off the kids. A varied bunch, most scrambling to keep their financial and domestic lives afloat. Lots of jockeying--it's NY after all--with schemes and infidelities. The children reflect their parents' competitive attitudes and cruelties abound, though the parents tend to let them "work it out." Entertaining. (Of particular interest to me: Greenfeld is the brother of autistic Noah, whose father wrote about him in a very moving book, and I was curious to see what would emerge here. Yes, there is an autistic child in the mix.)

Back next Monday

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