Lauren Kuhman is a rising Sophomore at Arizona State University studying Nonprofit Leadership and Management. She got her love of reading from The Hunger Games, and has sense branched out to reading a variety of books. In addition to reading, she enjoys baking, traveling, drawing/coloring, and art history.
About a month ago I posted an invitation to attend the Changing Hands virtual writing worship on Monday, October 5th and now – after successfully attending my first writing workshop – I am here to reflect on my experience.
To be honest going into this workshop I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know what “literary fiction” meant, and I didn’t understand the structure of virtual writing workshops. Also, given my current degree, I didn’t know how to write creatively.
However, since attending this workshop I find myself not only wanting to write more, but wanting to learn more. The event was virtual and included a brief lesson regarding the difference between fiction and “literary fiction” as well as an hour of practicing and learning key writing techniques within literary fiction.
Surprisingly, and probably contrary to popular opinion, I actually liked the virtual structure of the event. Besides affording me the flexibility to attend the event, I think the virtual structure helped me be more willing to read my work. As well, the instructor, Kelli Trapnell, was very supportive and not only pushed the other participants and I to think creatively, but tried to foster community with discussion and conversation throughout the program. I had never attended a literary event previously and as someone not studying English or Literature, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more, engage with the literary community, and practice creative writing with an open and supportive group.
I look forward to engaging further and learning more within my literary community, so my question to you is…what are you waiting for? Grab your pen (or laptop) and get writing!
Quickly now—grab your pens and all the paper you can find because Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting a virtual writing workshop!
The event is on Monday, October 25 from 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30–11:00 p.m. ET) and attendance is only $5. The workshop will be taught by Kelli Trapnell, who has a MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and received both the Sandra Brown Excellence in Literary Fiction Award and the 2018 New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship in fiction.
The 90–minute session will include a 30–minute lesson on the difference between fiction and “literary fiction,” and specific time for personal literary exploration! The first half of the class will be an exploration and explanation of the literary genre using discussion of prominent authors and works. The second half of the class will take theory to application as you move through a variety of exercises to teach literary fiction techniques leading up to your own miniature story.
Do you have your pen ready? Great—let’s go! Register for the First Draft Book Club here.
Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!
It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry.
After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.
Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. TheSorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked TheChamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas TheGoblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a “childhood,” TheOrder of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, TheOrder of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:
“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:
“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:
And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.
Publisher: Wednesday Books Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age Pages: 448 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
If you’re looking for an extraordinarily unique, dark twist on a classic story, look no further than Christine Riccio’s Better Together. Jamie and Siri are sisters separated at a young age and completely devoid of contact for over a decade due to their parents’ nasty divorce.
In a twist of luck (or fate) the two sisters are reunited at the same “rediscover yourself” retreat and hatch a devious plan: the two will switch places and confront their respective parents.
However, not everything goes as planned, and it’s going to take a lot more than switching places to understand each other, find themselves, and ultimately face the complexities of family.
It has been almost a year since my very first post with The Spellbinding Shelf where I discussed one of my favorite young adult novels, Again but Better by Christine Riccio. Now, coming full circle, I decided to review her newly released second novel, Better Together. While very witty, I have to admit that initially I was not completely sold on the plot—mostly because it wasn’t my usual type of young adult novel. The whimsical magic reminiscent of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday are classically engaging, but I was not as enthused with those themes. Perhaps due to my hesitancy, I ended up being disengaged, and the combination of short and rather uneventful chapters left me searching for more.
Despite some of these shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with Riccio’s capability to take a traditionally lighthearted storyline and investigate the twisted, dark, and traumatizing difficulties of divorce, dysfunctional families, and the impact of parents’ choices on their children. Indeed, there were moments in the book where, while I was craving more action, I couldn’t ignore the insight and attention to how both Jamie and Siri processed their emotional baggage. Riccio does an amazing job detailing the struggles of both characters who have completely different personalities and means of handling their past to move towards their future. There were multiple times in which I had to underline prominent messages or found myself laughing at the page as Riccio nicely combined comedy, romance, and sardonic tones with the seriousness of her overall topic.
Most importantly, Better Together was primarily written during the pandemic—a heaviness that is translated in its pages as the reader slowly feels the suffocation and eventual release of tension most everyone has felt over the past year. In this manner, I appreciated Better Together not only because of its mix of tragedy and comedy, but also its overall feeling of angst and the eventual, much needed, feeling of relief.
Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.
Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.
The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?
101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatiansis actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work
Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.
Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.
This past winter I visited my friend and while walking in the downtown area we approached a local bookstore. Upon grazing the shelves for about an hour I stumbled on a small roughly twenty page pamphlet titled How to Resist Amazon and Why by Danny Caine.
What I was presented with was a whole world of which I was previously unaware. While I am sure most people have some awareness of Amazon’s tragic effect on local businesses, consumers, and employees, I found Caine’s pamphlet to be an invaluable resource related to their impact on my personal favorite retail outlet—bookstores. However, this pamphlet isn’t the only resource highlighting the difficult relationship between Amazon and local bookstores. The fact that Amazon is harmful to local booksellers has been well documented by a plethora of news sources, including a New York Times article detailing how counterfeit books are often sold and promoted involuntarily on Amazon (Streitfeld, 2019), and an article in Forbes describing the new company Boohshop.org that provides local affiliate bookstores a 10% commission compared to 4.5% commission (Verdon, 2020).
Most people, myself included, are attracted to Amazon for their low prices, fast delivery, and availability of a wide selection of books. However, I never thought about why these books are so cheap. As Danny Cain articulates in his pamphlet, bookstores receive a particular discount when ordering from a publisher and if they sell these books for roughly the same amount they purchased them, they wouldn’t be making enough to sustain their business (Caine, 2019). Your local bookstore can’t afford to sell books at a loss, but Amazon—a very wealthy company—can afford to sell books for the amount they purchased or below because they can afford to lose money on this product (Caine, 2019). It isn’t necessarily a matter of Amazon being the evil villian—it is more that these bookstores simply can’t compete because their business reality is much different than that of Amazon’s. Bookstores are a local business that provide much more than just a book to the hands of consumers: these stores offer an environment, a community, and promote local artists and authors. However, because Amazon is the behemoth that it is, many of these beloved local shops are suffering. Hence the dire need to promote and sustain such a vital aspect of so many communities and the literary world.
But what if you really don’t care about the bookstore and just the book? Farhad Manjoo (2011) of Slate actually advocates for Amazon’s prominence as a bookseller stating that “no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books” (Manjoo, 2011). Manjoo (2011) then proceeds to critique the consumer experience at local bookstores, essentially considering that Amazon is the best means to purchase your books. However, even if you don’t care about any of these community benefits, perhaps consider that shopping local—whether at a farmers market or a bookstore—prevents economic leakage and promotes local self reliance within your community. Economic leakage, according to Roseland (2012), “occurs when community members travel outside the community to spend their locally generated income on non-local purchases, or when residents make purchases within the community on products that were originally purchased or manufactured elsewhere” (p.218). This money moves outside the local economy and doesn’t promote economic development within the community (Roseland, 2012). In working with local bookstores, or local shops in general, individuals promote local self-reliance—which is about creating a more sustainable community focused on local needs, cohesiveness, and a reduction of waste and beneficial trade practices (Roseland, 2012, p. 217). In order to bolster this foundation of economic development individuals must “where possible, invest in the local economy by substituting locally made products” (p.217). This promotion of the local economy includes bookstores. I know this isn’t your typical light-hearted post about charismatic books and authors we all love but I, and The Spellbinding Shelf, wanted to bring attention to those booksellers who are the backbone of not just our community, but our favorite authors and novels. If you are interested in learning more about how and why to resist Amazon, or even about supporting local bookstores, I suggest Danny Caine’s How to Resist Amazon and Why. Bonus—it is also available at Changing Hands (our favorite local bookstore)!
Caine, D. (2019). How to resist Amazon and why (2nd ed.). Microcosm Publishing.
Independent Bookstore Day is April 30! What is a sufficient way to celebrate all the bookishly amazing qualities of the independent literary community? Besides visiting your local bookstore, you can attend Changing Hands Bookstore’s online writing workshop.
Changing Hands offers a monthly writing workshop online called “Write Here, Write Now” in partnership with Phoenix College and ASU’s Piper Center for Creative Writing.
This month’s session “Writing Truth from Memory” focuses on the use of our memory as a means to tell stories, how we can harness and change our memories in storytelling, and how memories ultimately contribute to our work. The session includes poetry readings from Shane McCrae, Danielle Pafunda, and Adrienne Su to demonstrate the role of memory within writing and how we can utilize it in telling the truth.
Additionally, the event includes a 30-minute crash course on creative writing—including a writing prompt and dedicated time to write and read your work to the group.
Let’s celebrate Independent Bookstores Day in style by exploring our creative side and taking the role of author; to register, click here.
Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Genre: Children’s Literature Pages: 40 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
This year has been exceptionally stressful. I’m not going to sugarcoat it—life has just hit every single person with a thick, hard, brick. However, in the “season of giving,” no book could be more suited to bring some light in the darkness than Apryl Stott’s Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light. This children’s book is a perfect holiday gift or family read both because of its winter-esque imagery, but also its message. As opposed to telling the stories of typical holiday novels and children’s books, this picture book takes the reader on the journey of a young girl named Coco and her best animal friend, Bear (who is also a bear). Coco and Bear go around the woods attempting to share gifts with the other forest friends to show how kind and loving Bear is, despite his grizzly appearance. However, when this doesn’t work, Coco and Bear discover that kindness and light isn’t about tangible gifts, but continuous selfless actions for others.
I remember reading Christmas stories when I was a kid at school, or seeing The Grinch and A Christmas Carol on T.V. However, I didn’t really appreciate the value of such stories because they were continuously played. However, this Christmas I wanted to revisit my childhood and longed for a story that would bring light in the darkest of years and emphasize one thing everyone needs in life—kindness.
For adults, this book may be simplistic—however, if you look deeper than the short script and thin pages, you’ll find characteristic artwork, a heartwarming plot, and an inspiring message. The truth is books like Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light are not just for children because it conveys a strong message in simple language; one that is too-often forgotten. Coco and Bear could not have been more different, but they were connected by their inherent friendship. That love is what ultimately allows the other forest animals to see Bear better: it wasn’t elaborate gifts or active promotion of how good Bear was, but their actions that demonstrated Bear’s character. I appreciated this message, not only because of the tense and stressful climate of the past year, but especially because it is the holiday season. It is not about what we physically give others, but how we show respect and kindness to our family, our peers, our neighbors, and most of all to strangers.
I’m not going to tell you how this book ends, but I will note that perhaps this holiday season we can all bring light and kindness to our friends, family, strangers, and most importantly ourselves. And remember this season and as we approach the new year—“When life gets dark as winter’s night, share some kindness, bring some light.”
Twilight. Divergent. Matched. Pride and Prejudice. Romeo and Juliet. These stories are classics; known by readers everywhere for their intricate detail and swoon-worthy love interests. However, is it possible that these stories have ruined the young reader’s current perception of relationships?
I’ve thought a lot about the role of YA romance novels in the last couple years. I once praised the gooey-feel-good, yet often simplistic plot line of romantic comedies and the “bad boy/good girl” archetype I read throughout my tween and teen years. While these books are wonderful for many reasons, I couldn’t help but realize as I got older that the protagonists were much younger than myself, and yet they had their life easily figured out by the end of 300 pages. This led me waiting throughout my teen years to be older; but as I grew into my late teens, I found the end of high school didn’t mean the completion of my self development—and more importantly—no attractively mysterious love interest would randomly come into my life.
In a blog post about why they hate YA novels, Vivian DeRosa discusses two important points surrounding the typical themes within teen-romances: first, teenagers are inherently awkward, underdeveloped, and immature people; second, YA relationships are pure fiction. I don’t think there is a single person who looks back at their early teens and thinks they were at their peak. Being a teenager, even well into someone’s twenties, is awkward both physically and mentally; developing into who we are and finding who we want to be is a lifelong process that doesn’t conclude when one problem is solved. It is difficult for young adults to read these iconic stories and not receive the impression that they are supposed to be stunningly attractive and fully mentally developed, especially when Hollywood casts older actors to play these characters. It is impossible to think that 16-year-old Tris, while just beginning to understand her “Divergence,” could possibly build an actually sustainable relationship with Four. Or that 17-year old Bella not only found true love with a 104-year-old Vampire but gets married and fights in an ancient feud between the vampires and werewolves all while still in high school.
To this point, “YA tends to treat teenage relationships like they’re going to last forever. Many epilogues show the main character and their love interest happily married. But that’s not how most teen relationships shake out…” (DeRosa, 2017). Most teenagers are focused on typical high school and young adult things, and if they are in a relationship usually it doesn’t develop into a life-altering love story that will take precedence of their life and last forever. However, these stories have young readers believing that not only are relationships purely built on “finding the one,” but that there is no effort involved in finding, cultivating, and sustaining an actual romantic relationship. This thought process is detrimental to the perception of good relationships because it doesn’t offer the difficult perspective of how much work and time relationships actually take; it gives young readers a false foundation that life is just like these stories and all two people need is an attractive counterpart and one very passionate kiss.
Additionally, the perception of love through not just YA romance novels but all romance media is dangerous for all genders and sexualities. Because while Twilight, Divergent, and Romeo and Juliet are all coming of age stories where the protagonist’s journey takes the reader on one of self discovery as well, these mediums are often excluding the storylines of non-cis gendered, racially diverse, or gay protagonists. That a male protagonist without abs might fall in love with another male, female, or nonbinary peer who might have a diverse set of beliefs or culture is almost unheard of in YA romances, while today this is the reality of relationships. These stories, while considered classics, cater to a specific female fantasy—and without the diversity of representation, there is a whole population who may either lack a well-rounded understanding of relationships and/or see love as an unreachable fantasy.
This is not to say that these stories aren’t good. They are. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is continuously taught and referenced through different mediums; why John Green’s “Okay? Okay.,” line reference has taken off with readers; and why the promotion of “sparkly, chiseled-abed vampires” has become a teen cliché. These stories are beautiful, incite strong emotions, and are oftentimes powerful. Despite having contradicting emotions about the genre, I still love and appreciate these stories. Don’t stop reading them, but don’t take them as a bible to your literary world. Teach each other that these books are not a guide for how to look, act, or love—and, most importantly, expand to local and diverse authors dedicated to telling the story that is not only special but realistic. In this way, we can indulge in the beauty and power of love, but remember that love is nothing without a relationship—which is often much more complicated than 300 pages would suggest.
How to Feed Yourself: 100 Fast, Cheap, and Reliable Recipes for Cooking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing: A Cookbook by Spoon University
Publisher: Harmony Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook Pages: 224 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
It is back to school season—and whether this fact spurs feelings of fear or excitement, there is one unavoidable, and oftentimes frustrating, subject within everyone’s fall schedules: food. The COVID-19 pandemic has restructured dining halls for college students, tightened the budgets of families, and possibly even allowed time for new at-home hobbies. Spoon University’s How to Feed Yourself is a simple and comprehensive cookbook designed by college students, for college students.
It is incredibly flexible for anyone’s cooking level, desires, and situation. As we enter the fall with changing situations, How to Feed Yourself offers simple, cheap meals that don’t force the reader to buy a plethora of unknown ingredients, spices, and tools. The recipes are based on common ingredients to create plenty of simple, diverse, and healthy (but not too healthy) dishes. Spanning from “All-Day Breakfast Tacos” to a “No-Sharing-Required Mason Jar Banana Split,” Spoon University has prepared dishes for every occasion, every skill level, and every lifestyle.
This year I made the bold and, admittedly nerve-racking, decision to cancel my meal plan as I am sure many incoming and returning students are doing. As I ventured into my new reality of consistently cooking for myself, I wanted a cost-effective, nutritious (but not too healthy), and simple cookbook tailored to my novice skill set to help me out. I am usually apprehensive about cookbooks because they are often shrouded in mystery from complicated recipes, expensive and uncommon ingredients, and unrealistic expectations (because let’s face it—my food never turns out looking like the picture). However, I was very satisfied with this cookbook—it uses simple recipes, has consistent, colorful, and an easy-to-follow page layout, in addition to encouraging language. The ingredients needed for every recipe are basic, and the recipes are created with the expectation that the reader only has “an oven with a stovetop and broiler, a microwave, a fridge, and a sink.” The book is split up largely by chapters with recipes featuring some of the most common food items (eggs, chicken, pasta, fish, potatoes, toast, grains, veggies, and bananas). Later chapters provide recipes for occasions or habits, such as make-ahead meals, group recipes, date-night ideas, alcohol, and desserts. While this structure seems confusing, it allows you to find recipes based on what you have available. The book also outlines the most basic and important points of cooking and flavoring meats, using grains, and seasoning vegetables while offering flexible recipes which is encouraging and a helpful tool to understand the basics of food.
I’ve tried several recipes, including the “Not Your Average BEG,” the “Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie,” and the “2-Ingredient Flourless Pancakes.” The recipes were fairly delicious and creative. The “Not Your Average BEG” used toaster waffles to create a kind of bun for the egg sandwich, and while the “Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie” could have used additional seasoning, it was simple and a great dish to learn how to cook with chicken. My favorite recipe so far, however, are the “2-Ingredient Flourless Pancakes” because they offer different flavor suggestions and I had the freedom to get creative and substitute or add ingredients. As a beginning cook and novice cookbook reader, I am very happy to have taken a chance on this book because it is tailored to any cooking level, flavor pallet, and bank account. If you don’t eat meat or need a dairy/gluten free diet, the recipes offer substitutes and diet-specific recipes. Additionally, it has recipes for the lazy days, the single-parents, the working student, and the tired-of-ramen freshman.
We naturally come to food for community and enjoyment, and while our lives might be stressful in many ways right now—and our dinners might look different—our food shouldn’t be stressful. This book gives me hope in my ability to create a meal instead of spending that extra five dollars on the grocery store’s frozen meals section; it gives me hope that I can learn a new skill; and it gives me encouragement during this time—I hope it can for you, too.