Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón
Doubleday Books - Memoir/Cooking
When Suzan Colón was laid off from her six-figure job at a magazine in 2008, she had already been tightening the budget for months in anticipation. Her husband was still employed and she was able to negotiate a contract to do some freelance work, but their health insurance was no longer covered and the finer things in life had to go. No vacations, no meals at fancy restaurants. Suzan needed to learn to cook the old-fashioned, frugal way or "put up the soup" as her family referred to conserving in hard times.
I received an ARC of Cherries in Winter and picked it up primarily because I read somewhere that it's now been released and it appeared to be a quick read that I could wedge into the reading schedule between Bible readings, chunkster and the Beth Moore non-fic that's just a wee bit longer. The brevity of this book is actually a bit of a blessing. It's nothing to call home about. The author jumps from the 2008 and 2009 time period to telling stories about the struggles of her relatives in past times. She shares some recipes -- most of which do not appeal to me, although there's a quick apple cake recipe I intend to try.
My biggest problems with the book are that it read like an excuse to toss something together to sell in order to boost the family income and that her struggles were nothing by comparison with those of anyone else in her family -- the single mother who saved money in a coffee can so they could vacation in Bermuda off-season (the cut-rate time of year turned out to be hurricane season), the grandmother who nearly starved to death and watched a man jump to his death during the Depression, the grandfather who loved to eat raw potatoes because they reminded him of how happy he was to find food to eat while he was serving in France in WWI . . . all of her ancestors endured some major strugges.
It's also notable that Suzan had saved 6 months' income (remember, her income was 6 figures) and was able to obtain unemployment while her husband was still working, in addition to making money for freelance work. It just doesn't sound like she had it all that hard to me.
What I liked about the book was the relaxed style, the fact that it's a quick read, and the stories about her family's history -- the way her great-great-grandmother Matilde wasted an entire week's pay on two beautiful vases (which are still in the family) and the family had to eat nothing but bread and applesauce for a week because she figured there would always be another week of eating, but it's not every day you can buy something beautiful to look at for the rest of your life. Stories like that were what kept the pages turning.
3/5 - An average read, not inspiring or helpful if you're looking for money-saving ideas and most of the recipes sound frankly awful. I preferred the ancestral stories to the author's own and at times thought some people might consider the book a bit offensive at a time when many people are truly struggling. The author has had to watch her money more carefully, but she was certainly not suffering.
We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment where the living room doubled as Mom's bedroom and our dining room, depending on whether the convertible couch was opened or one side of the drop-leaf table was up. When I told her our television was broken, Mom said we couldn't afford to fix it. "What am I supposed to do until you get home?" I whined. "Go to the library," she said in a voice filled with warning, "and get a book." (My reading level shot up from fifth grade to high school level that year).
Book-a-Rama (I agree, the cover is wonderful!)
Redlady's Reading Room
My thanks to Doubleday for the review copy.