Sunday, September 27, 2015

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Title:  Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good
Author:  Kathleen Flinn
Publication Information:  Penguin Books. 2014 (original). 288 pages.
ISBN:  0143127691 / 978-0143127697

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I'm Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I'm Irish, which makes me want to talk about it"

Favorite Quote:  "I am my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, my aunts, my uncles, and my grandparents, even the ones I never met."

"Burnt toast makes you sing good." That sounds like something my grandmother would say; it's similar to other family sayings that have been passed down to me and that I pass on to my children. The title and cover of the book evokes a smile for sweet memories of my own family. It immediately draws me in, and I want to know more.

Kathleen Flinn comes from a large family. She is one of five siblings. Her father was one of eight siblings, and her mother was one of five. As such, the book has a lot of characters. At times, it is challenging to keep up with the characters. The book include two family trees. One include her grandparents, all their offspring, and Kathleen Flinn's siblings. The other ends shows Kathleen Flinn with her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. The family trees help, but the two family trees flip the sides of the family. In one, her father's side of the family is on the right, and on the other, it is her mother's side. Admittedly, that is a small thing, but it adds a bit to the challenge of managing all the names and the relationships. This is Kathleen Flinn's third memoir; it is the first one I have read. I wonder if I need the background of the other two books to know the characters better in this one.

The second half of this book appears much more chronological, following the author's immediate family. As such, it is easier to follow the characters. This section is also the more personal and more emotional part of the book. That is likely because this is the history she herself experiences.

The first half seems more anecdotal, filling in the family stories that she finds critical to her history. The stories of the first half can almost be read independently as small, contained views into the lives of this family. These are the stories that have been passed down to her. They do trigger the interesting question of if you were to tell your family history, what stories would be included and why? Out of generations of family and scores of stories, which ones do you remember and which ones do you tell generation to generation? How do you choose? For this book, the tie in is the food references.

The book is a "memoir with recipes", but it is not really a foodie book. The recipes and the foods are tied in to the author's memories, for as she says, "... I had not lost the flavors of my childhood, not the lessons that he left me. When everything else seemed so unsalted, the simple act of cooking saved me somehow." As such, the book is not really about the recipes included but about the stories behind them.

Because the focus is on the family story, I do wish that either her personal story had come first or that the anecdotes of family history were woven into the immediate story.  That is the story I laugh and cry with for it is an emotional life being lived and not a story being told.

Like the jam on the cover, this book is sweet. The stories and recipes are not particularly memorable, but it is nevertheless a sweet story of family, of the immigrant experience, and of the ability of our senses to trigger a memory.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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