March Non-Fiction Reading Round Up


As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I decided to divide my March Reading Round Up into fiction and non-fiction sections. There was a bit of a problem with WordPress and the publication of yesterday’s post. So, if for some reason it didn’t show up in your WordPress reader feed, I’d appreciate it if you clicked on the link and had a gaze at it.

I’ve got five non-fiction titles that I’m commenting on this month. They range from food, to hockey, to history. Enjoy, or should I say, given the photo below, Bon Appetit?

March Non-fiction Julia Child
Its been a while since I read anything Julia Child related.

Julia Child with Alex PrudhommeMy Life in France

Last year I read quite a few books relating to France and to food. Two or three of them featured Julia Child, but she played a part in almost all of them. My Life in France, written in conjunction with her grand-nephew Alex Prudhomme gives a look at those years from Child’s own perspective.

Much of what is in the book was familiar to me from the other books I read. However, this book goes into a little more depth as far as what life was like for her during the years she was in France, and other European countries. The chapters on life in Norway and Germany were the most interesting in the book.

While the book is focused on Child’s life in France, her American character comes through. It was this unique fusion of the two that seems to have been the one thing that propelled Child to the heights she eventually achieved. It’s worth noting that Child was in her early nineties when the book was being put together. She was bright and vigorous up to the very end. This is a good read if you want to get a brief glimpse into Julia Child’s life, from the women herself.

March Non-Fiction Norman Van Aken
Norman Van Aken’s autobiography is a testament to hard work, good friends, and good breaks.

Norman Van AkenNo Experience Required

Norman Van Aken is considered one of the important figures in the development of New American Cuisine, and Fusion cuisine. No Experience Necessary, is the chronicle of the first twenty or so years of that journey. It connects to my Julia Child reading in that it opens with a story of Van Aken cooking with Emeril, and Charlie Trotter at a dinner in honour of Child, and the wild aftermath.

There is a lot of the typical sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll elements which one would come to expect in a book about a celebrity chef, but what I really like about this book is Van Aken’s journey of self-discovery as a chef. From someone who started out taking a kitchen job, because it was all that he could find, to a person devoted to the art of cooking and constantly learning new things about that art.

Every so often I get the notion that I wouldn’t mind opening up my own little restaurant, and then I read something like No Experience Required, and the idea leaves my head even more quickly than it arrived. The chapters in the book are largely divided up into accounts of the different restaurants where Van Aken earned his stripes as a chef. The list alone is exhausting, let alone the number of hours put in to try and make each place work.

One of the things I like about the book is that Van Aken goes out of his way to heap praise on the people who have helped him along the way. Among them Trotter, Gordon Sinclair, and most importantly of all Van Aken’s wife Janet. The book is full of characters with wild personalities, but it is these people who saw and nurtured Van Aken’s talent that are the core and heart of this book.

Non-Fiction Orr
Bobby Orr’s coffee table photo book is a testament to the importance of family, and friends.

Bobby: My Story In PicturesBobby Orr

This is another book that I received for Christmas. Despite being a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, this is the third book about Bobby Orr that I’ve read. When I was a child I had a copy of his book with Mark Mulvoy, which focused on his playing technique. Then I also read Stephen Brunt’s: Searching for Bobby Orra book that I found rather disappointing as it didn’t tell me anything really new, or interesting about Bobby Orr.

Now, I have this coffee table book full of Bobby’s personal photos and memories. It’s not a particularly deep or insightful book, but I enjoyed it. The two main features of the book that stick out are the importance of hard work, and the importance of loyalty to family and friends. I particularly liked Orr’s comments on his relationship with Milt Schmidt, one of the great Bruins from a different era. I also enjoyed reading about how the best part of winning the Stanley Cup was being able to celebrate the win the following morning over a quiet breakfast with his father.

One other thing I really liked related to the most famous photo of Orr. Him flying in the air after scoring the goal against the St. Louis Blues that won Boston the first of the two Stanley Cups that they won while Orr was playing for them. On the next page, there is a picture of the Blues goalie and defenceman, standing in dejection, aware their season is over, ever though the scoreboard in the background hasn’t changed to reflect that goal. Orr’s empathy for his opponent’s sense of loss really shows through in that picture.

March Non-Fiction French speakers
A short, but important chapter in U.S. history.

When The United States Spoke FrenchFrancois Furstenberg

This book covers a brief period of time when five refugees from France had a major influence on the politics of the time. The five refugees, listed from the books Goodreads page were:

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon’s future foreign minister; theoristreformer Rochefoucauld, the duc de Liancourt; Louis-Marie Vicomte de Noailles; Moreau de Saint-Méry; and Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, Comte Volney.

It also reflects a time when Philadelphia was the capital of the United States.

The French had played a major role in helping the United States achieve their independence from England. Then the French revolution came, brought about in part by the five gentlemen the book focuses on. However, when the Reign of Terror came in, these men and many others were forced to flee France, often with little more than a few possessions. Upon coming to Philadelphia, they found each other and many helpful and sympathetic friends among the American people.

The period covers the period when western expansion was beginning in the United States. The French imagined creating French settlements in the interior of the United States that would give their home country a foothold on the continent. This is one of the ways in which the United States found themselves starting to be suspicious of the French and their plans.

It was a heady period, but it ended all to soon. Despite the best efforts of the five individuals, the United States eventually turned to their former overlords. One thing that separated these five Frenchmen from their American friends was their belief that slavery was wrong, France having abolished the slave trade before either England or the United States.

In the end, most of the five returned to France. Of all of them, it’s probably only Talleyrand that most of us know today. In part because he lived quite long, and regained much of his prominence by the time he died. When the United States Spoke French, offers an interesting look at how democracy develops, and also the way in which it is always in peril.

March Non-Fiction Indian Act
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.

21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian ActBob Joseph

If you are looking to become better informed about the relationship between the Canadian government and Canada’s Indigenous peoples, this book is a good place to start. Joseph, a corporate trainer, does a great job of taking the reader through the Indian Act, as well as bringing to the fore other issues for Indigenous people that are not covered by the Indian Act.

The big thing that really stood out for me was the pass system, This system, which meant Indigenous people were only allowed to leave the reserve to travel, if they had permission from the Indian Agent, was a system that had no basis in law, but was simply imposed on the Indigenous population of Canada.

Joseph also goes on to give a brief history of the Residential schools(I’ll have more on that in next month’s round up), along with other actions that the government has taken over the years to force the Indigenous population to give up their identity in exchange for a place at the table.

Finally, Joseph gives ideas for the dismantling the Indian Act. The book concludes with the 94 actions recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Classroom activities for students, and finally a list of quotes from John A. MacDonald and Duncan Campbell Scott, two figures who did the most in the attempt to destroy Indigenous culture. These quotes should be read by everyone to remember the roots of the Indian Act and the great pain and tragic behaviour that came out of it.

 

 

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19 comments

    • Thank you very much. “When the United States Spoke French” is a longish read, but I think it gives not only good history, but shows that some of the issues surrounding immigrants were much the same in the late 18th century as they are today.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I read My Life in France some years ago, and really enjoyed it! I didn’t know much about Julia Child, but when the Julie and Julia movie came out, I found the Julia parts far more interesting, found the book in the library and have been quite a fan, ever since. The library where we lived at the time also had collections of her TV shows, and I think we managed to see every episode!

    The role France played in the US was something I learned more about, quite recently, through food, too! We don’t get TV, but have Amazon Prime, and I found 9 seasons of A Taste of History. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. A perfect blend of food and cooking, bringing history to life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have a TV or Amazon Prime, but I will look for A Taste of History. They may have it at the public library in Winnipeg.

      I read the Julie and Julia book, but didn’t really like it. Several people said that the Julie character comes off much better in the film than in the book.

      I managed to find a three disc set of The French Disc at a movie store close out. Julia was a remarkably good teacher. She gives both technique and reasons which I really appreciate.

      Like

      • I concur about the Julie character. She wrote another book called Cleaved (she became a butcher, after the success of the movie). I read it and, by the time I was done, I thoroughly disliked her, and felt sorry for her husband.

        I do hope the library has A Taste of History. I think you will really enjoy it.

        And I agree with you about what a good teacher Julia was. She covered a lot in a short time, and it was always so clear and understandable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I just discovered your blog and really like it, especially the book reviews. Regarding France and the American Revolution, I am an obsessive about the Founding Fathers and their grand design of limited government of, by, and for the people. Last year I discovered the television series “Turn – Washington’s Spies” on Netflix, and it is excellent, an all-around total joy. The history of the time (1778+) is woven into the story vie enactments of real and fictional characters and it is very illuminating about the nature of Colonial rule and why the colonists eventually sought to throw off the yoke (though of course many did not want to throw it off — many were more than happy to remain subjects of the King of England, and such is the nature of human society).

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    • Thanks for the comment. One of the interesting things about the book is how quickly the U.S. turned back to friendship the Britain and the government whose rule they had just overthrown. The violence of the “Reign of Terror” certainly played a major role in that.

      Like

  3. This a very nice selection and review of books, you got me interested in the “When the United States Spoke French” and I have added it to my book to read list. Many thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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