Shauna Niequist and I have a lot in common. We both studied French from an early age (we both have undergrad degrees from Christian colleges in English literature and French), both love Paris, both love to travel and taste new foods and see new places. We both grew up in the church, daughters of people in ministry (though her parents, Bill and Lynne Hybels, are way better known in the evangelical world than mine). We've both experienced pregnancy and birth, but we've also both experienced the devastating loss of miscarriage. We both are ambivalent about wearing a swimsuit. And apparently there's something about our voices that made my friend Katie think of me when she read Shauna's second book, Bittersweet, as I explained in this review. Katie texted me on a Sunday night in 2011 to say that she had a book for me; she said she'd thought of me the whole time she was reading it.
A lot of people feel this kind of connection with Shauna. I'm always seeing comments on her blog from people who say, a little sheepishly sometimes, that they feel like they are friends with her. It's the way she writes, I think; she is chatty and confessional and says things like this (from her latest book):
"Every year I feel like I'm letting everyone down, like there's a collective sigh of disappointment on Memorial Day weekend, 'Oh, look, there she is again, still kind of lumpy and nonfabulous.' But as my friend Sara always reminds me, no one's actually thinking about me as often as I think they are. Probably my friends are not actually counting the days till summer to see if I've finally turned into a supermodel."
But there are things that Shauna and I don't have in common, as well. I found out, while reading her soon-to-be-published book, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table, with Recipes, that she doesn't like A Prairie Home Companion. Really, Shauna? She's never lived long-term outside the United States (though she has traveled extensively), whereas I've spent most of my life living as an expat. She's run a marathon, and a 5K is my limit. But probably the biggest difference between us that comes up again and again in her books is that she's a cook. I'm not. I do love to eat, but I married a man who loves to cook, and that's just fine with me. When I see beautiful recipes, like the ones included in this book, I don't think, "Hey, I have to make that right away!" I do think, "This sounds delicious," and sometimes I tell my husband it sounds good and ask him to make it. But I'm not drawn to taking cooking classes or perfecting my cooking or feeding people the way Shauna is.
But that's OK. I still enjoy reading her essays, even this third book, which is more food-related than the others (including a recipe with almost all of the chapters). She still has a lot to say to me.
In addition to her meditations on food and fellowship and friendship and how all three work together, Shauna writes excellently on shame, body image, marriage, pregnancy, parenthood, slowing down, caring for others. She talks a lot about opening your home and your life to others, not waiting to be perfect before you can show anybody who you really are. Appendices to the book offer tips on weeknight cooking, stocking the pantry, entertaining, having a cooking club/book club, and further reading.
But you know, she's right about food. Even though I'm not usually the one cooking it at our house, I found myself nodding at this:
"Food matters because it's one of the things that forces us to live in this world - this tactile, physical, messy and beautiful world - no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals, food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness. Try to think yourself through starvation. Try to command yourself not to be hungry, using your own sheer will. It will work for a while, maybe, but at some point you'll find yourself - no matter how high-minded or iron-willed - face-to-face with your own hunger, and with that hunger, your own humanity."
I was excited to get an advance reading copy of this book, and to get to read it before it even came out, but I would have bought it anyway, as I bought her first two books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. (Yes, I read Katie's copy of the latter and then bought my own.) While I probably won't make any of the recipes in this book (though they all look delicious), I do appreciate Shauna's words, and I will come back to these essays, for myself and to share with friends, just as I have to the essays in the other two books. You can pre-order your copy here, or order it at the same link after it comes out on April 9th.
Here's a video of Shauna talking about the book:
This post is linked to today's Saturday Review of Books.