Despite my love for immersing myself in books and all sorts of stories, whether fictional or memoir, it's rare for me to cry when I read. I'm not sure if it's because few books are powerful enough to illicit tears from me or if, because I'm a lifer-reader, I'm somewhat hardened.
When I cried at the end of Kathleen Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry, a few years ago, I'm pretty certain that it was one of those serendipitous moments when the book walked hand in hand with my emotional life at the time.
So when Viking offered her new memoir, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, for review, I was happy to accept.
Burnt Toast is a series of short vignettes about Flinn's family history and youth. She shares her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents stories. Her parents had a lot of children, and a few years of financial difficulties (more due to a bad business deal than the number of children). Flinn writes about how their family lived on a farm with bare-bones, homemade meals during the debt-heavy years, but that as soon as they were more financially solvent, her parents moved the family to a more suburban home and started stocking the freezer with processed meals.
There are recipes included with each chapter, each one related to the story in the chapter. I haven't tried any of them yet, but I am interested particularly in her vinegar-based German potato salad.
My hesitation with this narrative is that it does some seem to lack some cohesiveness because it follows only a sketchy linear chronology. Near the beginning of the book, I kept checking back to see whether the story was about the family's time before Flinn was born, or after. Later in the narrative, she would mention an older relative like her grandmother, and I was a bit disoriented as to who she was because her stories were told primarily earlier in the book, and her popping back in surprised me.
It's a minor quibble. Flinn's stories are fun and interesting family tales, sometimes bordering on legends. They're light (oh, but for the dark incident with the canary), on the whole, and I loved how the recipes at the end of each chapter were associated. Sometimes, while reading a chapter, multiple recipes or meals were mentioned and I looked forward to finding out which one would be featured at the end. The recipes themselves are lovingly shared, with companionable instructions.
I was somewhat aware of Flinn's second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, but hadn't tracked it down yet in part because I was under the impression it was fiction (nothing against fiction, obviously, but I enjoyed the first memoir so much I wasn't sure I wanted to try something different). It'll definitely be moving up on my list now.