Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More Schtick Lit Recommendations

Great Scott! It seems that I have been on even more of a schtick lit binge than I thought (see previous schtick lit posting).

Schtick Lit is the word coined by writer Steve Almond for non-fiction titles in which the author spends a year or so immersing themselves in a subject and then writing about the experiment, as in A Year of Living Biblically by Schtick Lit maestro A.J. Jacobs in which he follows the tenets of the Old Testament to the letter, white robes, ZZ Top beard and all.

While reading Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession by Marc Romano, I remembered that I had already digested Stefan Fatsis' Word Freak about his descent into the madness of competitive Scrabble playing. Fatsis' book is the most absorbing; he pays attention to all the quirks of the eccentric Scrabblers and provides a more interesting journey than does Romano. Romano's book is heavier on his self-introspection, although he does provide an interesting chapter on the changeover at the New York Times from serious and rigidly-ruled crosswording to the more whimsical, pop culture-infused crosswords that are in vogue today under the direction of Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz. Fatsis' book spends more time on the, shall we say, "quirks" of the full-time Scrabble players and the seemingly joyless methods for advancing one's competitive abilities, like memorization of reams of two- and three-letter words, and words beginning with x, etc., etc.

I suppose Barbara Kingsolver's excellent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life also falls under the definition of Schtick Lit in that she and her family spent a year living the locavore lifestyle. Locavores try to grow their own food as much as possible and eat the rest from local farmers and vendors.

Kingsolver's fiction is always a treat and she touched on farming and food issues in her last novel Prodigal Summer. This nonfiction book was as engrossing for this gardener and home cook and I loved the extra passages about biological topics by Kingsolver's husband Steven and the toothsome recipes by her collegiate daughter Camille. Even youngest daughter Lily gets mention in the books, as she is an experienced chicken rancher and egg merchant.

I was thrilled to read about many new heirloom vegetable varieties that I can't wait to try in the 2008 garden, and think I might even take a stab at home cheesemaking, though I smiled at the prose about raising and "harvesting" the Kingsolver turkey crop, I am happy to trot to the supermarket to buy the meat for the 50% of our omnivorous family that eats it.

There is an AMV website which reproduces Camille Kingsolver's recipes and has other information and updates about eating locally, which I would encourage others to look into.

Schtick Lit Recommendations Recap:

Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession, by Marc Romano (NY: Broadway Publishers, 2005). Recommended for serious crossword junkies and assorted word aficionados.

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, by Stefan Fatsis (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Recommended for anyone who likes the works of Charles Dickens and other juicy books with lots of character development, Scrabblers, and sports nuts.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (NY: HarperCollins, 2007). Recommended for foodies, gardeners, biologists, farmers, and anyone who eats.

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