Nonfiction November 2019: week 2

This week’s Nonfiction November prompt is fiction/non-fiction book pairings. To quote the creator of this challenge: “It can be a ‘If you loved this book, read this!’ or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

I was nervous about this prompt – mostly because I am not confident in giving recommendations to others – but I ended up having a lot of fun with it! Here are the pairings/groupings that I came up with:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Queenie, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

I grouped these together because they all emphasize the potential of therapy. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a non-fiction book that looks at an actual therapist’s experience helping patients (and going to therapy herself), and shows how therapy helped both her and her patients. Queenie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are fiction books, and both include the title characters going to therapy to process trauma. If you read and liked either Queenie or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, my guess is that you would also like Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

nîtisânak and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

These books go well together because they are both beautifully and poetically written; and they both show difficult relationships through a very compassionate lens. nîtisânak is a memoir by poet Lindsay Nixon, who writes about the struggles of being queer and native Canadian. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional novel (but based in part upon author Ocean Vuong’s lived experiences) that explores a first-generation American son’s complex relationship with his mother. Both are meant to be slow, thoughtful reads, and both discuss difficult relationships and “taboo topics” from a place of immense compassion. Also, they are both so beautifully written – they would make a lovely pairing.

That’s all I have for this prompt! If you have any fiction/non-fiction book pairings, I would love to hear them!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (and so are these cheddar scones)

The book: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Last month, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The novel’s title character, Eleanor, lives a regimented and lonely life without realizing that anything is wrong: she goes to work and prepares healthy meals during the week, and enjoys pizza, wine, and vodka on the weekends. When Eleanor saves an elderly man’s life with the help of her coworker Raymond, the three of them become friends, enriching Eleanor’s life with positive social interaction for the first time in years. As the novel progresses, Eleanor’s formerly-mundane life is permanently changed by her friends, who look out and want the best for her.

I absolutely loved reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The book somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between hilariousness and darkness. Having spent so many years without social interaction, Eleanor lacks the ability to read social cues, and often says outrageously blunt things without realizing that she is being offensive. Although Eleanor’s lack of filtering is often funny, it never feels like she is the butt-end of a joke. In fact, there are scenes where Eleanor’s coworkers do make fun of her, and those scenes come across as slightly sad rather than funny.

Additionally, author Gail Honeyman goes deeper than just portraying Eleanor’s bluntness as a humorous tic. Throughout the novel, Honeyman provides glimpses into Eleanor’s traumatic childhood, allowing the readers to understand that while Eleanor’s social skills are in some ways amusing, they are most likely coming from a place of pain. I loved this development, because it teaches that peoples’ unusual or unsettling treats generally come from somewhere – and that we should be empathetic rather than dismissive.

The next two paragraphs contains mild spoilers, so read at your own risk!

What I loved most about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is that it eventually became a book about the real progress that can be made with therapy when people are willing to address their mental health issues. Eleanor’s time in therapy illustrates that opening up can initially be quite difficult, but that doing so can allow people to work through traumas, and better understand and improve themselves. The novel isn’t explicitly marketed as a “mental health book” – wisely so, I think – but it does ultimately take that direction, and it does so in a remarkably effective way.

I also loved how this book didn’t end with Eleanor getting into a romantic relationship! At the end of the book, it seems like romance could be in Eleanor’s future, but it is just as likely that her near future will be focused on friendship. I loved this ending, and the message that it carries: a romantic relationship is not the only type of “happy ending” a person can have. I wrote in a previous blog post that this message is starting to feel cliché, but a fellow blogger helped me realize that in today’s society, we really do still need this message to be reinforced.

Okay, done with spoilers.

If you couldn’t tell by the amount of times I used the word “love” in this post, I absolutely adored Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The novel portrays loneliness and lonely people in a very empathetic light, and also demonstrates how friendship and earnest introspection can improve peoples’ lives. The book is also pretty funny, yet it never feels like it is making fun of Eleanor’s social skills or loneliness. There is a lot to be learned from this book, and I highly recommend it!

The bake: cheese scones.

For Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I decided to bake something referenced in the book. As Eleanor and Raymond become good friends, they regularly get lunch together at a local cafe, where Eleanor always orders a cheese scone and a frothy coffee. So in tribute to Eleanor and Raymond’s friendship, I decided to bake my own cheese scones!

For the scones, I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour, replacing the scallions with fresh basil (because that is what I had in my kitchen). I also included both of the optional ingredients (dijon mustard and hot sauce), because I thought they would give the scones more flavor. Overall, the recipe was pretty straightforward; the only complications were flouring the surface sufficiently to prevent the dough from sticking (scone dough is so sticky!), and shaping the scones.

These scones were lovely and flavorful! They turned out a bit flatter than I would have liked, but that is okay because perfection is not the purpose of my baking. I think other herbs besides scallions or basil would work in this recipe (rosemary comes to mind), so that might be something to experiment with in the future. Overall, these scones were a lot of fun to bake, and even more fun to eat. I ate one with a fried egg this morning; maybe tomorrow I’ll have one with frothy coffee.

Month in review: July 2019

Every month, I find myself writing “this past month has been crazy” – or something to that effect. Well…July was no exception! This month consisted of a 6-hour road trip to Pennsylvania, lots of wedding-planning activities, and a cross-country visit to California. Also, my fiancé and I adopted two cats! They are amazing and adorable and enrich our lives, but adjusting to life with them has certainly contributed to my “busy” feeling. The month also consisted of lots of reading (mostly because I spend virtually all of my commute-time reading now).

Books read:

One of my friends used to joke with me that I don’t have “distinguishing tastes” when it comes to food…but based on this month’s book ratings, that may be true of books too! Or perhaps I just got lucky enough to genuinely love all the books that I read this past month. Something interesting about this month of reading is that three of the four books I read focused heavily on mental health. The Hate U Give was focused more on racism and police violence, but it still touches on mental health (although not explicitly), as the main character of the novel experiences trauma-induced anxiety. I love that mainstream media is portraying mental health issues in a normalizing and empathetic way.

Bakes:

While I did a lot of reading this month, I’ve lagged significantly on baking: I only completed bakes for two of the four books I read. For The Hate U Give, I baked red velvet cheesecake brownies inspired by Mrs. Rooks’ famous red velvet cake. For Queenie, I baked a vanilla bundt cake glazed with guava syrup. Bakes for Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Maybe You Should Talk To Someone are coming soon!

Books in progress/goals for August:

I’m currently reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and – WOW – it already lives up to its hype. I also plan to read Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg, as well as a non-fiction book called The Truffle Underground (which is about truffle mushrooms). I also might check out some of the books that made the Booker Prize Longlist (although I’m pretty turned off by the fact that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous didn’t make the list).

Blog posts I enjoyed…

I have to confess something: I have NOT been a good member of the blogging community this month. I read and responded to some bloggers’ posts this month, but I didn’t engage as meaningfully with other bloggers as I would have liked. I frequently skimmed other bloggers posts, reading and commenting on posts superficially rather than mindfully. I strive to do better in August.

Some photos from July: