Archive for the ‘Sarah Turnbull’ Category

I am back in Calgary and happy to report that all the snow has melted (and I fully intend to ignore the snow currently in the weather forecast).  It was a delightful vacation but, all the same, it is nice to be back in my own apartment and to be getting back into a somewhat normal schedule.  However, I will miss having so much spare time for reading!  It was a busy week and, while I’m planning to write up full reviews of a couple of the books read last week (The Moving Finger, Henrietta’s War), in the name of expediency I thought I’d just give some brief thoughts on the other books read, the ones that don’t necessarily warrant full reviews:


Green Metropolis by David Owen was a quick and not particularly enlightening read.  His thesis, essentially, is the obvious: living in a smaller space, close to amenities and your workplace, reduces your carbon footprint.  My greatest quibble with this book is that it is very, very American.  There are no specific international examples used, aside from vague mentions of Europe’s superiority.  Using one example, in this case NYC, to illustrate your argument is never terribly effective and I would have respected Owen much more if he had drawn on further examples.  I was also disappointed by the lack of productive suggestions expressed in the conclusion. 

I Remember You by Harriet Evans was typical vacation fluff and very enjoyable.  Remarkable only for making me yearn desperately to visit Italy (a new urge, it must be said) and for pointing out the perils of ‘idyllic’ village life.  The writing style was generally amusing, though heavy-handed at points (such as when drawing parallels between an elderly character and the young protagonist).  Girl from the South by Joanna Trollope was another light, though less fluffy, read.  I do like Joanna Trollope.  I always pick up her books with some shame and misgivings but there’s really no reason for that.  Her writing is skilled and her characters, especially supporting ones, well formed. 

I consumed two very different books to satisfy my inner-Francophile, both written by journalists: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn and Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.  Flinn’s focus is on her studies at the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; the onus here is on the food, not on Paris.  Her description of the school is fascinating, intimidating, and inspiring.  I have no desperate urge to attend the school, but it was wonderful to be able to hear such intimate details about what goes on within the kitchens.  Almost French is certainly one of the best examples of the Anglo-ex-pat-in-France memoirs I’ve come across and, originally published in 2002, is seemly one of the earliest as well.  As usual, I was relatively uninterested in the narrator’s romantic entanglements (always, always the reason memoir-writing ex-pats seem to end up in France) but I loved Turnbull’s journalistic style – she does a wonderful job of balancing the personal and the professional, documenting Parisian and French life on a larger scale, giving specific attention to the social and political context of the day.  Her frustration at her initial social isolation (which lasted for several years) was particularly fascinating and echoes the experiences of my friends living in both Paris and London, where most newcomers seem to find it difficult to make friends with locals who are content with their existing social circles, usually composed of friends from University days. 

The real problem with reading while you’re on vacation is that you forget that you have to go back to work eventually.  It seems like the rest of your life should be spent on vacation, travelling to all the wonderful places you read about!

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