Consider the fork

A wooden spoon – most trusty and lovable of kitchen implements – looks like the opposite of “technology,” as the word is normally understood.

Now this is my kind of non-fiction, and not just because of the subject. Clearly written with fun and love for the subject, it’s the kind of books that makes you share facts with a smile. Not a school book, but a book of knowledge.

Consider the fork is about your kitchen, kitchens in the past, kitchens in the future. It’s about ways to prepare food, about utensils, about how certain foods and materials have influenced our diets and diets around the world. It explains why the Japanese are satisfied with using only one knife, while the Western world prides itself on a case full of them. Why the wok was for the poor, and why fridges were looked at with suspicion. It’s a history book through the kitchen.

Bee Wilson adds anecdotes, but never makes the story about her. It’s excitement and facts thrown together, making it a very tasty stew (no, I couldn’t resist such a corny metaphor).

Consider the fork, Bee Wilson, Basic Books 2012

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Miss India America

95 min.

Sometimes the best love stories are the ones involving friendship and self esteem. Although you could just call this a cute coming-of-age story as well and don’t worry about in your face Life Lessons and soppy scenes.
miss india americaMain character Lily always wins, no matter what the battle is. She has her entire life planned out, but of course life – being what it is – doesn’t go with that. Her boyfriend breaks off with her, because of a pageant miss! One of those dumb, shallow creatures (it takes her some time to realise her misogynistic ideas)!
Of course this means that Lily is going to have to win a pageant to win her boyfriend back. Even though she knows it’s a superficial mess, pulls her best friend away from what she wants (to participate), and just doesn’t know yet that you can’t ‘win’ people.
Boyfriend is just the katalysator for things here anyway, and nary a man is found after the first few scenes. They’re all weaker than Lily and her friends and competition, whom are learning about their culture, their place in it and that there are lines you don’t cross to win.
That’s how we get Lily recognising that you can’t keep an iron clad grip on everything-/one, and that life is nicer with people around than medals.

Miss India America, Simhan and Kapoor 2015

Dear White People

10 x 30 min.

Ik kreeg het niet voor elkaar om de film te kijken, maar gelukkig hielp Netflix (weer eens): nu is er ook een serie.

dear-white-people-netflixMet hetzelfde gegeven: zwarte studenten op overmatig witte campus die in mindere en meerdere mate tegen racisme ingaan. Hoofdpersoon is misschien wel Sam met radioshow Dear White People, maar – heel fijn – anderen krijgen elk ook een aflevering. Iets met ‘verschillende, nodige invalshoeken’ en zo.
Zo leer je waarom sommigen “zo min mogelijk zwart” willen zijn, of hoe het is om waarheid te ontkennen voor je eigen veiligheid.

En door het evenwicht van continu activisme en ‘ik wil gewoon leven, hoe dan ook’ wordt Dear White People geen eenzijdig pamflet. Hoeft ook niet; de ervaring van met de neus op de bittere feiten gedrukt worden gebeurt toch wel.

Dear White People, Netflix 2017

The woman in Cabin 10

The first inkling that something was wrong was waking in darkness to find the cat pawing at my face.

The narrator being unreliable (or do I only think she’s unreliable?) definitely set my teeth on edge, almost as much as the paranoia slowly building.

Main character and narrator Laura (Lo) has to experience a luxurious cruise for work. If only the tight spaces didn’t remind her so much of the very recent home burglary she experienced.

Instead of work, the luxuries and familiar faces present to distract her, Laura is sure that one night she witnesses a murder. Her frazzled state never ceases, only grows, because there was no woman in that cabin, and is it true that she’s been recently traumatised?

The roll up and conclusion aren’t completely satisfying, but the way towards it is creepy enough for a few hours thrilling entertainment.

The woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware, Harvill Secker 2016

The Collaborator

Captain Kadian takes a large swig from his glass tumbler, closes his eyes for a moment, smacks his lips and says, ‘The job’s not that hard, you see, you just go down once a week or fifteen days, and the money, the money is not bad at all.’

I really wanted to like this. Looking back a few days later, I appreciate the story and the story telling, but while reading it, it couldn’t hold my focus.

The story is about the nineties war in Kashmir, and the young man left behind to take care of the remains. Literally. Where others have left to fight (for India/against India), the headman’s son has the job of taking identity cards from dead bodies. He feels left behind, he feels like a failure, he lives in less than a ghost town.

So what was it that didn’t click with me? Maybe the endless dreariness, the weight of everything going on. It’s not like the prose is dull, uninspired or repetitive, but it does push you into the tightening corner of the main character’s despair.
Maybe I simply read it after the wrong book, maybe I just couldn’t handle the story.

The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed, Viking 2011

Girls on Fire

See them in their golden hour, a flood of girls high on the ecstasy of the final bell, tumbling onto the city bus, all gawky limbs and Wonderbra cleavage, chewed nails picking at eruptive zits, lips nibbling and eyes scrunching in a doomed attempt not to cry.

I’m both angry at and feeling supportive towards this book. I didn’t like it.

Books like these – underlining how they realistically show what it is like to grow up as a girl, to have female relationships, always set my teeth on edge. Not just because it’s so easy to make it look like this is a world-wide experience versus a personal one, but also because it can easily turn into sexist material: “dumb, jealous, hormonal, pitiful creatures, these girls”.

It’s humanity and society that’s tackling these two main characters. Hannah and Lacey barely need anything or anyone else but each other for (self-)sabotage. A small American town as their stage doesn’t help either.

So there are too many recognisable things, too much hurt and frustration to come out of this story light and happy. Because gosh darn it, why didn’t we know then what we know now, and where did the fire go?

Girls on Fire, Robin Wasserman, Little Brown 2016

Divines

107 min.

Flikken de Fransen het weer. Verdorie, wat een film. Na Black en Girlhood een film vanuit de banlieus, de lelijkste plekken van Frankrijk met (pijnlijk) bewijs dat de mensen die daar wonen, heen gestuurd zijn, gedumpt zijn, niet minder menselijk zijn dan de Franse clichés die rond de Eiffeltoren flaneren.

divines easy tigerDeze keer weer een vrouwenvriendschap, met romance ver op de achtergrond. Zij houden vooral van elkaar. Dat het geld waardoor ze extra lol hebben van drugs en diefstal komt – liever niet over nadenken.

Dat het niet mooi afloopt (die Fransen toch) hoef ik niet aan te stippen, in deze film gaat het over de eindeloze liefde tussen twee vriendinnen, hoe cliché ideeën over mannelijk en vrouwelijkheid (de vrouw is de dealer, de man danst, de vrouwen zijn agressief, de mannen volgen) ondersteboven gezet worden zonder het onder je neus te wrijven. Het gaat om de eindeloze, uitzichtloze hopeloosheid van groeien naar alles waar je beticht van wordt. Zijn het beesten, of zijn het hun omstandigheden? En kan dat wel veranderen zonder dat het barst?

Divines, Easy Tiger 2016