Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gluten-Free book review

It’s time to indulge in a little lit crit, my friends. Specifically, a book review.

I’ve held off on doing these because, well, it’s just too easy to be snarky about them. D’you see me writing a book? Certainly not. And yet, the magpie pleasures of the literary critic is to dip into texts and pick out their favorite, glittering moments, and to speculate not-too gleefully on the shortfalls. Still.

Recently, I picked up Gluten-Free Girl’s book. She was given the book contract based on her blog, but only partly – she’s no fresh off the boat writer, but has taught writing and been writing for years. Even without knowing that, I can see the strong style and structure shaping her blog posts. I rather like her blog, and she’s got a sweet story…so I bought the book.

I’m now in the slightly awkward position of trying to review the thing without having it in front of me. It’s the cardinal lit crit sin (can’t quote revealingly from the book? tsk, tsk), but I’ve lent it out. Yup, I read it, I lent it, I made a mental list of people who would enjoy it. Must’ve been a real stinker of a book for me to do that, yes? No. 'course not.

The focus of the book is simple: listen to your body. If something is wrong, figure it out – even if it means a major lifestyle change like going gluten-free. Far too many people with celiac (like people with von Willebrands disease) go undiagnosed. Don’t be one of them. And then, once you are trying to live this new life, ignore what you can’t have, and explore the wonderfully tasty world of what you can have. Buy produce from the farmers who grow it (it really does taste better that way, and not just because you are feeling morally superior), invest in some good cookery equipment, some excellent ingredients. Oh, and if you fall in love on the way, well, check your karma for fine print about package deals. (Note: the GF-G’s love story is a really darling one.)

I was a bit disappointed, though hardly surprised to find that there’s a rather large number of recipes that just don’t fit us. When you are focussed on excellent flavors and tastes, the blend of flavors is more precise, making it harder to eliminate one flavor (butter? nuts?) and still have a good, strong whole. But I’ll be playing with her recipes regardless, and I’ll report in if anything really mouth-opening pops up. And if you are just avoiding gluten, I heartily recommend trying her recipes, not to mention her blog. Let me know what happens!

Stylistically, the book is a bathroom read, a new parent read, something you put down and pick up again. It’s just not built to be read cover-to-cover, which is just fine by me. In fact, it’s built a lot like a blog that grew into a book…funny, that. It’s constructed of shortish pieces, some discussions and some narrative, and tends to reiterate its philosophy a lot. I tried to read it straight through, and it just didn't work. When I went back and tried to read just bits, I was happier.

This is by no means a criticism of Shauna, mind you. Having just finished my first really serious writing experience, I’m now a bit shocked at how easily the editing process can pull apart the fine strands that bind a text together. (Article by committee, anyone?) It’s hard, hard, hard to knit a text seamlessly together afterwards, and frankly the process can do worse than letting the text be episodic. Shauna maintains the spirit of her blog, has some useful interludes (and I'm with her on the olive oil, if anyone is wondering), and has certainly proven why her blog's so popular. Yay for the Girl!

Finally, a small grump. This is a book written by a person without children. Shauna’s focus and attention to food is remarkable, and her joy in it is palpable. But could she keep it up, between diapers and runs to the playground? I’m very, very curious to find out.

1 comment:

Zina said...

You are absolutely right about the book being hard to read straight through. I am a book a night person. I have my little book light and read very fast. But I just couldn't do it, and it was very frustrating to be a different type of reader. Nonetheless, I am finding it enjoyable. I decided to just read chapters that interested me first and then skip around. I like the sorghum bread recipe, but I still use your By George Bread because it is much faster. I would like to use up my sorghum flour though... hmmmm. - Zina who is having trouble remembering her Blogger password