Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reading: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell
ISBN 978-0-316-00336-0
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
December 2009

When I first saw the book cover for Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, I thought it was perfect. There's a silhouette of a pig (red on yellow) framed by aquamarine blue. It has a retro look. The pig reminds me of one of my favorite barbecue joints on Greenville Avenue in Dallas (Baker's Ribs). And then there's the word "Cleaving." Of course I thought of Beaver Cleaver, then of a meat cleaver. That word sort of creeps me out. I really enjoyed Julie Powell's first book, Julie and Julia, as well as the movie version. You can see my posting about the movie here.

Before reading, I knew Cleaving was about what Julie Powell decided to do next in her life after the hype died down about Julie and Julia and her year-long make every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She decided to become an apprentice butcher. But I didn't know the gory details--and they could get detailed, and gory.

Here is how I found the book to be organized: Julie talks about her marriage and her obsessive affair with a guy named D, interspersed with the intricacies of her butchering apprenticeship in upstate New York. This takes up about half the book. The next quarter is about how Julie copes with her lover having dumped her, along with more talk of her marriage. The last quarter is what I named the Julie Powell version of Eat, Pray, Love. Julie goes on a trip to Argentina, Ukraine, and Tanzania. She went to cattle auctions, farms, meat-packing plants, restaurants, private homes, and the Ngorongoro Crater. Why? She wanted to learn about the meat and butchering profession all over the world, and wanted to avoid confrontation with her husband, Eric. She wasn't ready to resume her married life post affair.

An extraordinary long time was taken by me to read Cleaving. I was reading a novel at the same time and I couldn't rush through Cleaving like I can with many other books. I enjoyed the introspection of Ms. Powell regarding her relationships and I detested all of the butchery detail she provided. I am a carnivore, always have been, and probably always will be, but I have no interest in the anatomy of cows, goats, and other mammals we eat and how their bones, tendons, and sinews are connected. But I did enjoy the occasional recipe provided. I also enjoyed the parts of the book when Ms. Powell was at the butcher shop, mainly because of the interesting people who owned the shop (a former vegan) and the people that worked at Fleisher's.

This book was a little off-putting and made for some uncomfortable reading material. I mean, who but Ms. Powell would write so openly about her affair and how wonderful it all was until she got dumped, then on the same page write about how she and her husband are meant for each other and how their minds think alike? By the way, Eric, the husband, was/is having his own affair, too. And nothing is resolved, in case you were wondering.

I will read any book Mr. Powell writes, mainly because I admire greatly her complete honesty and also because she can be really funny. Ms. Powell is unique and I really am rooting for her marriage to survive in the long run, but I have my doubts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reading: In Her Sister's Shadow by Diane DuBois

In Her Sister's Shadow by Diane DuBois
ISBN 0-316-18753-4
Little, Brown, and Company
New York
1995


In Her Sister's Shadow is a book I actually read in 2009 and am just now writing about because it took me so long to finish reading (as I had to force myself to finish this book). I borrowed this book from one of my friends and I was really interested in reading about the life of Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy Onassis' sister, hence the title). I knew Ms. Radziwill was known as some sort of princess and knew she lived a glamorous life, but really had never paid much attention to the details. Well, this book did not spur any more interest. I expected more from this book than was actually given.

I learned about how the sisters were brought up (divorced parents, alcoholic father, cold mother). I was sad to learn that they really did not respect their stepfather Hugh Auchincloss like I thought they did. The sisters were always trying to upstage each other, but I liked how they supported each other in times of crisis. Of course, when Jackie became First Lady, the balance in the relationship was never the same. And I certainly did not know Lee was first to have an affair with Aristotle Onassis. When Jackie married Onassis, I don't think their relationship was ever the same again.

Both of the sisters seemed to just go from social event to social event and from affair to affair and Lee seemed to enjoy redecorating any house she lived in or bought. And that's about it. Sure Lee had interesting friends like Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, but she never really found her niche in life. Or she wasn't willing to stick with anything for a long while (acting, a design business). Also, it seems she never really had any close friends that were women.

Lee pursued her first husband, Michael Canfield, relentlessly, then quickly tired of him. She married a Polish man from a distinguished family and I guess if the World Wars had not have happened, Stanislas Radziwill would have been some sort of Polish prince. Instead, he was a businessman in over his head and lost most of his money by the time he died (after Lee divorced him before all the money was gone). Later Lee befriended and married Herbert Ross, the movie producer, after his wife died. I got the feeling she preyed upon his vulnerability after his wife's illness and death. Their marriage only lasted a few years and they divorced and he died suddenly thereafter.

After reading this book, I have no real feeling for Lee Radziwill. She and her sister were so private, it is hard to really know what they were about. I will say that they were somewhat closer to their children than their mother was to them, and their children seemed to love and support them emotionally more than vice-versa, so they must have been okay as mothers. Lee had two children with Radziwill, Anthony and Tina. Anthony died from cancer shortly after JFK, Jr. died. I don't think she had ever been extremely close to her daughter when her daughter was young and during her teen years. She continues have a relationship with her daughter and with Caroline Kennedy. Maybe that is her chief role--to now be supportive of the two girl cousins who lost their beloved brothers and fathers. But who really knows.

I was looking up more information on Ms. Radziwill on the internet and apparently missed this excellent posting on Lee Radziwill on the style blog Cote de Texas. I think I might have enjoyed this posting more than In Her Sister's Shadow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reading: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help: a novel by Kathryn Stockett
ISBN 978-0-399-15534-5
Amy Einhorn Books
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
New York
2009

I read the 444-page The Help by Kathryn Stockett for my bookclub in approximately a day and a half. That alone should tell you that I could not put the book down until I was finished! I have been reading two other books for a month now and can't seem to ever finish either one.

The setting for The Help is in the southern town of Jackson, Mississippi. The time is the early 1960's just as the Civil Rights Movement is beginning. This was such a time of turmoil and the beginnings of great changes for the better in American history, but daily trauma had been and would be suffered for many years before and after this time, and continues to be for some.


The main character's name is Skeeter. How can you not be sympathetic toward a lanky 23-year-old girl named Skeeter? Skeeter Phelan rings of Scout Finch if you ask me, although Skeeter is a college graduate when readers are introduced to her. Really, I enjoyed almost all the names in this book: Aibileen, Minny, Hilly, Celia, Pascagoula, Louvenia, Stuart Whitworth, Lou Anne, Constantine, Carlton--melodic southern names.

Each chapter except for one was told by either Skeeter, her friend's Elizabeth's maid, Aibileen, or another maid, Minny. I always enjoy reading the same scene from a completely different perspective and this always brings out how the same events are interpreted so differently by different people.

Skeeter was writing her first book just as The Help is Kathryn Stockett's first book. Skeeter and Kathryn seem to have a lot in common and I enjoyed "their" spunk and sarcasm.

I like how not everything in this book ended hunky dory for everyone (as is true in life), and we all know more was to come for the country in in the 1960's.

Being a southerner, I really abhor the way things were and (in many places) still are regarding race relations. There's a lot of hate in the world and differences are emphasized instead of similarities. Tough subjects are addressed in this book that still exist (social societies that exclude, arbitrary lines that are drawn, etc.).

I never really liked one of the side character's story and and found her story discombobulated and not really resolved. Was she the comic relief or clown, or the poor, pathetic one whom married up and was saved? Too many stereotypes were present in her character and there were just some weird scenes with this one--Celia Foote.

It is just sad that so many black maids in the South raised lots of white kids from birth until the age where their neglectful and uninvolved parents then made sure to change their children's attitudes toward these great women to one of superiority and disdain. Of course, this is never true in all cases and the book exposes good stories of people helping each other or turning the other cheek, no matter the race.

The two most important lines I read in the book were also reemphasized by Ms. Stockett in her epilogue entitled "Too Little Too Late" and they are as follows:

Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.

Please pick up a copy of The Help and read it when you can!

--Kathryn Stockett by Kem Lee for the inside cover of The Help