Writing the book is the easy part.

For a period during the 90s, my parents embraced the power of positive thinking (see above), and they received much of that messaging via audiobooks on cassette tape that they’d play in the car while we drove around town on their weekend errands.

I am not exactly the world’s most positive thinker – I am a worrier, and always imagining worst-case scenarios, most of which never occur (but YOU NEVER KNOW so there’s no reason to ever stop this pattern of behaviour). There’s a perverse satisfaction in imagining you’re on the verge of some spectacular failure and then having everything work out fine – you always sort of feel like you’ve avoided catastrophe, or like maybe your luck is changing.

Positive thinking may not be as powerful as some motivational speaker – or my parents in 1994 – would have you believe, but somewhere deep in the dusty back corners of my hippocampus, I know that I can manifest strange scenarios based on my particular worry of the day. Positive thinking is fine, but the true power is in the brain’s ability to retain and mutate an idea over decades.

If you can believe it, you can achieve it! Kind of.

I work at the University of British Columbia, and I have been there, more or less, since 2004 when I started taking classes in the Creative Writing department. I started working at the university in 2008, and have been a regular customer of the campus bookstore for much of that time. They feature a lot of local authors, and there is often a shelf for books by staff and faculty.

When Well Fed, Flat Broke: Recipes for Modest Budgets and Messy Kitchens came out in 2015, my very first thought was “I wonder if UBC Bookstore has it, and more importantly where they have put it.” I don’t know what I was imagining, because I wrote a cookbook and not, say, a book of short stories or a history of Canada, but I thought it might be on display somewhere people might see it. So I went to the bookstore on my lunch break. I worried that maybe no one would buy the book, but I wasn’t worried about anyone recognizing me because who knows what any author looks like unless they are famous and I’m not.

In an unusual turn of events, my worries were misplaced.

And so I puttered around the store, assessing the shelves full of new releases and the tables full of featured nonfiction, and the book wasn’t there. “That’s fine,” I’m sure I thought. “Maybe they’ve filed me beside Vikram Vij in the cookbook section, which would be flattering and good.”

I wandered to the back of the store where the cookbooks were shelved. It wasn’t there either, but it was a new book and maybe they didn’t have it yet. I accepted this, because though I am a worrier I am also mostly rational once I think about things for a minute. Everything would be fine. I would check back in a week. Maybe they’d devote a small area of the front to displaying it. You know. Maybe.

I cut through the nonfiction section on my way back to the front of the store where the new releases were – I don’t generally leave bookstores empty-handed. I walked past two women with a cart full of books to be shelved, and they were chatting and I had no plan to interrupt, except that at the exact moment that I walked past, I caught a glimpse of my dumb face leering up with a terrifying watermelon grin from the cart, and then I died.

They saw me, and they saw me pause for the millisecond it took for my death to occur.

“Is this YOU?!” one of them ask-exclaimed.

“HAHA OH MY GOD,” I remember saying.

I began backing away.

“Would you like to sign a few copies? We don’t mind!”

“I AM NOT LURKING IN THIS BOOKSTORE HOPING TO BE NOTICED!” I think I yelled. I think they said something reassuring, like “no one thinks that” or “wow you are turning so red” but I can’t be sure because I, an adult woman in her thirties, dressed in drab business-casual clothing as if to suggest a level of professionalism and maturity, turned and ran away.

For clarity, I did not walk briskly, it was a full run which is unusual because I don’t like to run and I know I don’t look graceful doing it. I stumbled out of there and ran back to the building where I work and pretended that I was a normal, functional human being for the rest of the day, even though every 30 minutes I had to pause for a nervous shuffle to the washroom to relive and/or purge my shame.

I wish I could tell you I learned something tangible from that experience, but here we are in 2017 and I’m still lurking in bookstores.

Dutch Feast is now out there in the world, and I’ll be visiting Winnipeg and Toronto to launch it into the Canadian market (we launched in Vancouver on November 7), and I don’t know how it’s going to go but I’m trying not to imagine scenarios that involve me sprinting away from the scene.

With that in mind, I’d love if you’d come say hello! I’ll be in Winnipeg on the evening of November 27, reading a bit and hopefully sharing some Dutch sweets at McNally Robinson Books. And if you’ve ever wondered about writing a book, just know that getting the words down is the easy part.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Let’s talk about Snacks (and a giveaway).

Your next must-read book came out last month and I meant to tell you all about it … last month. And now it’s November. Maybe it’s better I tell you about it now, because the book is Snacks, and I think you should buy it for your snackiest friends and family this holiday season (which we can fret about later, at this rate my household will be celebrating Christmas on January 25).

Snacks: A Canadian Food History, by Janis Thiessen, explores the history and context for Canadian snack foods and it’s absolutely fascinating. Thiessen’s writing is engaging throughout, weaving the history of our national love of chips and candies with stories of the workers behind the brands and tales of corporate intrigue. I read the book over a month ago and am still a little miffed that Old Dutch Foods isn’t even really Canadian (or Dutch, for that matter – some guy named Carl Marx called the company Old Dutch Foods because he associated Dutchness with cleanliness).

Thiessen is an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg, where she lectures on Canadian, food, and business history, and brings a unique perspective to the topic of snack foods in Canada. The thing that spoke to me the most about this book was Thiessen’s critical look at how we vilify some foods as junk, and why we do that. I, for one, am very bored with hearing about how best to eat and live, as usually that kind of information is aspirational at best (at least for me as a lady professional out in the world having it all and then falling over from exhaustion).

Whole foods are good and fine, but sometimes I want to eat sour cream and onion chips and Hawkin’s Cheezies, and I want to enjoy them for what they are. Thiessen quotes food historian Sara Davis: “There’s a lot of unacknowledged privilege at work when food activists insist that the endgame should be more people cooking more meals at home,” explaining that disdain for snacking has its roots in gender bias – which is to say, if more people (women) stayed at home and prepared more meals from scratch, we wouldn’t need snacks, and we wouldn’t snack so much.

I like working and I like snacking. Thiessen makes a solid case for the benefits of a food system which, though it could be vastly improved, allows us to enjoy the occasional bag of chips we needn’t fry for ourselves. (Her favourite are dill pickle flavoured.) While the book was centred around snacks, the stories are what makes this so interesting – Thiessen incorporates oral histories from workers, business owners, and other academics to create a complex picture of the Canadian food landscape. Canadians are an idiosyncratic people, and I enjoyed learning more about our national quirks and odd preferences (ketchup chips are our passion, whether I am okay with that or not).

You should absolutely give this book to your best foodie friend for Christmas this year (ideally with a box of Ganong chicken bones). And because I love this book so very much and want you to have your own copy, I’m doing a little giveaway.

Comment below or follow me on Instagram and tell me there: what is your favourite Canadian snack food? (It is totally fair, by the way, if your faves are this entire list of PC chips from Superstore, from which I cannot choose just one. Maybe the sriracha ones. Maybe the jerk chicken ones.) You do not have to be Canadian to enter, but liking Canadians in general is preferred. Anyway, let me know by Wednesday, November 22 and I’ll pick a winner from Nick’s old hat and drop your copy into the mail before I head off to Winnipeg.

Also, because this is my site and I do what I want, I want to state for the record that All-Dressed chips, a uniquely Canadian thing, are trash and Serious Eats is wrong.