I have been honored over the past several weeks to preview a copy of Shauna Niequist's new book, Bread and Wine. All this week, I will be sharing some thoughts here on my blog about this book, about what the stories meant to me, about my experience of reading it, all while encouraging you to run out and pick up a copy. Because Bread and Wine releases April 9 (available for pre-order now).
Why all week? Why five days of someone else's book on my blog? Because I have that much to say about it. And I think you'll enjoy it.
The book, I mean, and what little justice I am able to do it.
Bread and Wine is a story of the table. Rather, it is a series of stories that happen at the table, a gathering of food and fellowship, a melting pot of lives and hearts and memories and moments. The chapters are short, snippets of a scene that was, and most include a recipe at the end for you to try at home. The end of the book includes a group (or cooking club) discussion guide, tips for weeknight meals, and hints for entertaining well. This is clearly something Shauna does well.
Let me start by saying that I wanted to read this book like a fairy tale. My own personal fairy tale, that kind of magical story that just sweeps you into this incredible land where these things actually happen. Because going into it, I had all of these magical ideas about what the table, and food, and fellowship, could mean and I thought it was something I was craving in my life. I had all these preconceived notions that this is kind of how I wanted to be - inviting, culinary, hosting people around my table and sharing in their lives and taking in the simple joy of something so easy, yet so meaningful, as food all while spending honest quality time with real people having a real time around a real meal on a real table. It sounds magical, doesn't it?
And after a handful of funerals, a smattering of family events, a season of holidays that seems to just now be finally drawing to a close, it seems to me that these moments around the table are something it's so easy to miss and maybe that's why I thought so highly of them, like these were the hidden moments that really defined what I was missing and if I could just slow down, settle in and be present to these kinds of things, I would find this happily ever after and this overwhelming joy that so many of the women I know seem to find in the food on their tables and the families and friends around them.
From chapter 1, the clock struck midnight and as I continued to read Bread and Wine, I realized with absolute clarity that this is not my fairy tale. This book shattered that magic.
But I don't think that's a bad thing because at the same time, it wrapped my heart so tightly around something else that as I sit here to write, it's actually hard to think about what I thought going into the book. It's much easier to think about all that I came out of it with.
Bread and Wine, for me, would be wasted as a fairy tale. For me, it was a matter of story. It was the telling of tales that took my heart. It was the way that I could almost feel myself around Shauna's table, fumbling through her friend's kitchen, walking the streets of Paris...without, you know, all the work of actually being there. It was the way I could imagine myself getting those late-night phone calls, adapting to those last-minute change of plans. It was the way I got a feel for the people around Shauna's table, but not so obtrusively so that I failed to get a new feel for the people around mine. Although, I wouldn't call mine a table.
Through Shauna's stories, I found a new something within me, which I will share in the coming days. I found something I had long buried that finally, through the grace of her stories (which seem to have so little to do with mine), seems ok to have, to be, to live. To love? I found a new grace for myself and started to uncover all of these things that I'd hidden and somewhere in her stories, something set me free.
At the same time, I developed new eyes for the people around me, the men and women and friends and family and complete strangers in my life that are looking for a table. A table to share with anyone; a table to share with me. I was drawn into these stories that, more than food, were about the way we connect with one another and connect with ourselves, and it got me thinking about the way I connect with those around me, those I love even, even on the days when it doesn't seem I love them very much. And thinking about the way they connect with me. And wondering about, dreaming of, the ways to bridge the gap, to find the common ground. The ways to make a table.
Those are some of the insights I'm going to be sharing as the week continues. I hope you will stay and read with me; you'd be surprised how great an impact a book about seemingly food would have on the heart of a woman. On this heart, at least.
A note about the recipes: I didn't try any of them. (Sorry, Shauna.) I normally read new recipes like they are some mystical, magical, secret potion and can't wait to try them. None of these really tickled my fancy. There were some that, for health reasons, I was unable to consider. There were others which included ingredients for which I have no flavor reference, so they were hard to imagine and it seemed wasteful to try something I had no opinion on. And there were others for which I would have to drive more than an hour just to find the ingredients, so that was out. (Shauna committed the cardinal sin of recipe writing, as far as I'm concerned, and I say that somewhat jokingly. She writes about things like almond meal, which you can "buy at the Whole Foods," like we can all just walk out our front door and venture into a Whole Foods and find these delicious, healthy ingredients. I live in sub-rural Indiana where I don't have a Whole Foods, I have a Wal-Mart, and we don't have almond meal. We don't have dates. We don't have goat cheese. They even stopped carrying my 100% Whole Wheat bagels. And so while part me of is adventurous to think about such things, I am highly unlikely to invest in three hours of round-trip driving to acquire such things.) Which isn't to say I don't think the recipes would be good. Everything I know about cooking says that they would be, says that these things might actually be delicious. And if you're a foodie, I would absolutely encourage you to try them.
It's just that, primarily, when I realized this wasn't going to be a book about food for me, that this wasn't the fairy tale feast I had hungrily anticipated going into it, I also did not want to distract myself with the food. I didn't want to draw away from the story.
So try the recipes. Please. And let me know what you think. I'm still interested in that; it just became so much more to me.
And keep coming back all week as I share more of what Bread and Wine spoke into my heart.
Pre-order Bread and Wine from Amazon today. The book releases April 9.
Per federal regulations, I am required to tell you that in exchange for my blogging and digital reviews, Zondervan publishing provided a free copy of Bread and Wine for my perusal. I must also tell you, as a matter of personal integrity, that I am being completely honest in my words and that the offer from Zondervan does not influence my opinion nor my statement. In the sixth grade, I once gave a book report that began, "This book was terrible. Do not waste your time reading it." The teacher pulled me into the hall and said I would get an F if I didn't change my tune, that the idea of a book report was to get people to read the book. I took the F because I don't believe that; I believe in being honest about a book. If it sucks, I'm going to tell you it sucks. This book, Bread and Wine, does not suck.