Reading for a rainy day

When the weather outside is frightful, stay warm and dry with books and potpie

The rainy season is upon us. The first task, of course, is to make sure we’re prepared for flooding. After that, those of us who prefer not to pretend we’re ducks and go puddle-jumping will be looking for ways to pass the rainy days.

That means books.

To help readers find comfort food for the mind (and occasional brain candy), SN&R has put together a short list of recently and soon-to-be released books for days when we need shelter from the storm. Our umbrella rating system goes from one to four—the more umbrellas, the better the book at keeping your mind off the rain.

You Suck: A Love Story
by Christopher Moore
William Morrow

Poor Tommy. This Safeway night-shift manager in San Francisco suddenly has become a vampire. He’s got to deal with a girlfriend who enjoys being a night stalker; former co-workers who want to change him from undead to really dead (and wait until they explain the finer points of turkey bowling); a blue-dyed call girl from Las Vegas (yep, she looks like a Smurf); and an angst-filled Anne Rice-wannabe teenaged gofer who has to schedule her duties around a little sister with head lice.

And just when things can’t get any more complicated—well, they do.

You Suck weaves themes of community, loyalty and family through an action-packed laugh-fest that includes a great deal of running around San Francisco—often while hurrying to avoid the heartbreak of sunrise. Although You Suck is laugh-out-loud, choke-on-your-soda funny, it’s also literate and well-crafted. Moore deftly weaves back story throughout the narrative thread, which makes the novel much richer than its lighthearted tone might suggest. Like double-chocolate brownies, You Suck is a filling way to pass a rainy day.


The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America
by Pati Navalta Poblete
Heyday Books

Pati has a problem. Her FOB (fresh off the boat) grandparents are making her life miserable. She wants to be part of the MTV generation, but the food her grandparents cook, the clothes they want her to wear, and all the mystical and mysterious beliefs that they brought with them from the Philippines are completely out-of-place in Pati’s suburban Bay Area home.

This delightful memoir by a writer and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle isn’t your typical “immigrants adjust” story. Poblete has crafted a narrative that, although overly sentimental in some spots, does a very good job of showing how familial expectations can both harm and bless. When a family scandal is brought to light, it provides some unexpected drama, but even without it, this narrative of identity may not keep your eyes dry.


love at gunpoint: poems
by nila northSun
R.L. Crow Publications

Don’t let the fact that these poems are about racism, sexism, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse lead you to think they’re depressing. Instead, nila northSun finds plenty to celebrate. In her fourth collection of poems, Native American activist and artist northSun addresses the highs and lows of life—and she chooses to focus on the highs.

For instance, if her man’s gone for too long, she’ll bust out of his Victoria’s Secret fantasy by “dancing in granny panties”:

the waistband short of my armpits
& so comfortable
as i snap my fingers
bend my knees
and let my ass bob like a …
full moon on a tumultuous ocean?

It’s not that the brutal details aren’t important, or that the issues northSun writes about aren’t serious. She’s got all the heavy stuff down, but she’s so in love with the language that her poems inevitably take a twist toward either irony or humor. In “women’s shelter,” northSun writes, “this is a place of hairy legs / & dark roots mixed with gray.” Yes, it’s funny; but the next lines put the humor in perspective:

this is a place where
as you leave
for an appointment
the worker matter-of-factly asks
“he hasn’t tried to kill you, has he?”
& you matter-of-factly answer
“not yet”

love at gunpoint: poems is the newest release from Penn Valley’s R.L. Crow Publications, and is a fitting addition to their backlist of “outlaw” poetry.


A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
by Howard Zinn
City Lights Books

Boston University professor Howard Zinn is best known for his groundbreaking classic A People’s History of the United States. This collection of his most recent essays is chock-full of examples of his gift for making connections between historical and current events.

Many of these essays relate to the current war in Iraq, which Zinn shows is typical of American wars. In general, our government has not been forthcoming with the citizens about the real reasons for war and, in general, the least-advantaged members of our society do the fighting and dying while the most-advantaged members profit. It’s Zinn at his best, using historical narrative to bring the present into clearer focus.

Two essays are the most notable: “Big Government” exposes the lie behind the expressed conservative disdain for what it demonizes as a “nanny state.” As Zinn makes clear, the size of the government has never been in question—it has expanded no matter which party had power or what its social and economic policies were. The only question about our “big government” is: Whom will it serve? He makes a good case for re-evaluating the purpose of “big government,” since it seems to do an excellent job at subsidizing corporations and their well-heeled operators while abandoning individual citizens.

The other standout essay—and this one is worth the price of the book all by itself—is “Henry David Thoreau.” Originally written as an introduction to a collection of Thoreau’s writings on civil disobedience, this well-crafted and exceptionally readable piece makes the claim that Thoreau’s basic question was, “How shall we live our lives in a society that makes being human more and more difficult?” In a wide-ranging examination of Thoreau’s writings and times, Zinn illuminates how relevant some 19th century ideas are to our own time.


Potpies: Yumminess in a Dish
by Elinor Klivans, with photographs by Scott Peterson
Chronicle Books

Nothing turns a rainy day from a gloom-fest to a snuggle-fest like comfort food, and nothing says comfort food like a flaky-crusted, gravy-filled potpie. O, the wonders of flipping pages while the scent of a baking potpie wafts through the house and rain dribbles on the roof!

Sorry. That was an overly romantic stomach talking.

Still, there’s truth to be found in the belly, and Potpies will keep that belly full and happy while we seek it. Try the Breakfast Special Potpie on a weekend morning very soon—filled with potatoes, onions, bacon bits and eggs, it’s basically a good, old-fashioned diner breakfast with a crust.

There are as many types of potpies as there are California foodies. How about a light Broccoli, Blue Cheese & Walnut potpie? The Shrimp Scampi potpie doesn’t even have a regular crust, relying instead on panko (Japanese bread crumbs) for a crust-like topping. It’s stretching a bit to call the book’s version of bangers and mash a “potpie”—mashed potatoes are not a crust, as far as I’m concerned—but it still sounds like a good way to warm up a damp and windy day.

By far the best tips to be found are in the introduction, with clear and easy directions on making fillings, as well as three varieties of roll-out crusts. It’s a handy framework to use when building your own comfort food.


Hungry for some of that potpie? Try this recipe from Potpies: Yumminess in a Dish.