from friends

I've been meaning to post this for a couple weeks now -- it's an e-mail for my book club letting us all know what the next selection is, so some of you have already seen it in its complete, not-at-all edited version. Apologies for any changes, I was just trying to keep references to people we know to a minimum.... Anyway, reprinted with permission, this is hands-down the best book club announcement I've ever read. Enjoy.

Well, in the midst of making a rajma, a kidney bean dahl, I found myself with a few minutes and a recollection that I had to send out this email. The secret, by the way, to a good rajma is the tomato. Pick out how much you think you'll need and multiply by one-and-a-half. That is, if you think you'll need two tomatoes for what you got, use three instead. But I digress.

With the sugar in my tomatoes finishing its Maillard reaction, I will write to let you know that (we) have chosen Unless by Carol Shields. This is a book a good friend of mine insisted I read, a book that had shot straight into his top five list, and had begun a lifelong obsession with Shield's work and an extensive exploration of feminism. Seriously. The book hit him that hard.

I have read Unless, the second I had read from Shields, and while I wasn't as blown away as my friend, I was happy to have found a book so contemporary and even in its approach to the issues it raises. It ought to raise a lot of discussion. Beyond that, Shield's prose is wonderful. It's an astounding and nuanced performance. Her writing seems simple, but reading it will reveal great depth and meaning, without seeming overwhelming. I have never read, before or since, a book so sad and playful, so beguiling and gentle. It might not be the best I've ever read, but Carol Shield's last book is a gift. I hope you too can read it and spend an afternoon talking about it.

That afternoon will be in February....

PS For those who care, dahl is essentially a lentil soup, with a curried base. The broth of the soup should come from the lentils themselves, when they are cooked in water, very slowly, over very low heat, denaturing the proteins and creating a dense, thick liquid. The same technique maybe applied to kidney beans, to wonderful effect.

PPS Oh, the book is fairly short, so no need to dig in right away. But it might be difficult to find. Amazon.ca has it currently in stock.

PPPS How big a commitment did my friend make to learn about feminism? The biggest kind. He just married a women's studies major and soon to be grad student a couple of weeks ago.

*A note, not from the author of this fine e-mail but rather the author of this spinny ditzy blog -- when Carol Shields died a few years ago, I remember a source on the CBC telling radio listeners Shields could write about the way a curtain hung in three pages or more. This description has always made me nervous and intrigued me. More updates to come, I'm sure.

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