I’m working double time on my A-Z challenge, as I only have until the end of the year to finish it. I’ve done 14 books so far, and I figured I better make a serious dent in the list so I can finish the challenge by December.

I’ve finished two more books for the challenge so far this month, and am lining up more in the coming weeks.  A is for Margaret Atwood’s The Tent, a collection of short works, while J is for Kate Jacobs’ Comfort Food.

Aside from a few odd pieces here and there, I haven’t read any Atwood books yet. A lot of my book club friends are big Atwood fans, which has lead me to put either The Handmaid’s Tale or Blind Assassin (which one should I start with? Any thoughts?) on next year’s reading list, so I decided to include a warm-up book in my A-Z Challenge.

Margaret Atwood’s The Tent is a pocket-sized collection of thought-provoking works. Classifying the genre this book falls under is a challenge — it appears to be a mix of essays, fiction, fictionalized essays, poetry, and even doodles! They’re all quite short — all the pieces can very well be flash literature, as none of them take up more than two to three pages.

I liked the reflective quality of Atwood’s writing, and the intense emotions she conveys with each piece — wonder, despair, regret, rage, nostalgia, and indignation.

I liked the pieces that rewrite literature: a modern-day Chicken Little, and Hamlet from Horatio’s point of view. I also liked the selections about writing — there’s a very funny piece called “Three Novels I Won’t Write Soon,” (three absurd story drafts entitled “Worm Zero,” “Spongedeath,” and “Beetle Plunge”) and the title story “The Tent” which presupposes you are trapped inside a tent made of paper in the middle of a howling wilderness and there’s nothing you can do but write.

Of course, I also have to applaud Atwood’s prose-poem “Bring Back Mom: An Invocation,” which paints a picture of the life of an iconic (Stepford!) mom, which turns out to be not quite so perfect, after all.

Atwood writes beautifully, and I have no doubt I’ll get a better sampling when I get to the main course (leaning more towards The Handmaid’s Tale) next year.

It might seem odd to pair an Atwood, with a, shall we say, fluffy beach read, but I think this book echoes the sentiments of “Bring Back Mom” quite succinctly.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs (author of Friday Night Knitting Club, which I haven’t read) takes us into the world of Augusta “Gus” Simpson, foodie extraordinaire.

Gus is nearing her fabulous fifties (think a hotter version of Martha Stewart), but Gus is feeling nowhere near fab: her long-running tv show on the Cooking Channel, “Cooking with Gusto” is getting reformatted and a bimbo of a cohost is foisted on her; her daughter Sabrina is getting married to a guy she doesn’t approve of; and her financial adviser has run off with her life savings. Her new show (co-hosted by the sultry beauty queen turned culinary school grad Carmen), “Eat, Drink and Be,” a televised live cooking show (with a motley crew composed of her two feuding daughters, an ex-boyfriend of her daughter’s, a Wall Street guy turned amateur chef, and a former sports celebrity who went incognito) is fast turning into a comedy of errors, too, in a case of too many cooks in a kitchen that gets too hot to handle!

Initially I thought I wouldn’t like this book because I rarely relate to lead characters in Gus’ age group, but I was happy to see that the perspective shifted among the various characters in the novel.

It’s a very friendly novel; light and easy to read, with likeable characters and truly funny moments (hahaha, the burning kettle!). It’s not quite the chicklit that I expected (the cover is deceiving), and it’s not the foodie book that I expected either (the title is deceiving), but it’s a warm and toasty novel about life, relationships, and food for the soul.

***

The Tent, first edition hardcover with dustjacket, 4/5 stars, A for the A-Z Challenge

Comfort Food, trade paperback, 3.5/5 stars, J for the A-Z Challenge

Books # 163-164 for 2010

cover photo: sxc.hu

[amazonify]::omakase::300:250[/amazonify]