New Books and ARCs, 6/10/22

As the weekend approaches: Another set of new books and ARCs for you to consider. What here would you be happy to read on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon? Share in the comments.

— JS

Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 10: “Basement Apartment” by Sarah Harmer

I don’t usually turn to Time for musical recommendations, but in late 2000, I happened to have a subscription to the magazine and the magazine, in turn, happened to recommend Sarah Harmer’s album You Were Here as the top debut album of 2000, and one of the top ten albums of the year. The next time I was CD shopping — kids, at the turn of the century we actually went to stores to purchase music, on small silver discs — I saw Sarah Harmer staring up at me from a playground swing on the cover of her album and decided, what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.

I’m happy to say Time magazine did not steer me wrong: You Were Here is indeed a terrific album, and Sarah Harmer quickly became one of my favorite songwriters. Harmer’s lyrics are observational, smart, and, depending on song, painfully wry or gorgeously sweeping. It’s not difficult to believe that at some early point in her life, Harmer was the girl in the corner at the party, guitar possibly in hand, watching the crowd and sorting her thoughts into song form for later. You Were Here in particular seems to fix a particular moment in time and place: The early twenties of the North American (Harmer is Canadian), when one is either about to or has left college — with a degree or without one — and is wondering what the hell happens now.

No song on the album typifies this better than “Basement Apartment,” in which the narrator resides in one of those shitty, barely-livable university-adjacent addresses, with one or more people, who may or may not skip out on rent because you’re the only one actually on the lease. It’s squalor! But it’s genteel squalor, and it’s probably temporary, unless it’s not, and suddenly it’s ten years later, and you’re still in that apartment, with new but not necessarily better roommates.

The song hit for me because I did live in that apartment — or one not unlike it — in the space between my last year of college and moving on to my first job. It was the apartment I rented with a bunch of friends, most of whom went home after graduation, so it was filled with subletters for the summer. They were nice people, if I recall correctly (it’s been a few years). But it’s not like they were vetted for being nice people. They were vetted for being able to cover a share of the rent. Harmer’s song vividly took me back to that moment in my life; the interstitial moment between what has happened and what comes next. It still takes me back, more than twenty years later.

So thanks, Time magazine. You got this one right.

(As a coda to this particular story, I’ll note that after two decades, I finally got to see Sarah Harmer live in concert through a slightly coincidental set of circumstances — she was going to be in concert in Santa Monica the same weekend I was scheduled to be in Los Angeles for the LA Times Festival of Books. I ditched all my friends in the hotel bar and went to see her and her band instead. They were fabulous. And they played “Basement Apartment.”)

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Buying Mystery Books Paid Off!

A couple days ago, I went to a local used bookstore. After doing some perusing in the main area, I saw they had a shelf in the back with brown paper bags. They were mystery bags, with a book inside, the genre of which was written on the front of the sack, along with the cost, which was 50 cents a bag. There was a lot of drama, some romance, and then I saw them. The only two bags I cared about. “Recipes” and “Cooking”. I wasn’t sure what the difference was, but I was for sure getting both.

I thought I had gotten one cookbook per bag, but it turns out I got a ton of the tiny kind:

(Please excuse my hand in the shot, the light from above was causing the worst glare ever on the damn purple chicken book.)

Seventeen recipe booklets in total! For one dollar! I was shocked. I had thought at first that I got some repeats, since there’s two Bisquick books and three Campbell’s books, but they were all different, thankfully.

I actually didn’t know Bisquick was owned by Betty Crocker until I saw these. The one on the left is from October 2000, and the one on the right is from 2001. Clearly, they didn’t change the design much, but hey, whatever works for them. I am disturbed by the “impossibly easy cheeseburger pie” image on the cover. Is there a more difficult cheeseburger pie? If it’s so impossible, how’d they make it at all? Jokes aside, I thought it was cool to get two that were so close in date.

Unlike Bisquick, The Pampered Chef clearly had a glow-up between 1995 and 1997. Both of these are the fall/winter editions of their year, and apparently the 1995 one is the 15th anniversary year! I had certainly never thought about the year that The Pampered Chef was founded before today, so that’s neat.

Another 1997, this one from Pillsbury, accompanied by its predecessor from 1996. I was shocked to see a cookbook from the nineties that was meatless. It seems progressive given the time. I feel as though vegetarians may have been a bit more uncommon back then. Then again what do I know, these two books came out before I was born. One of my favorite things about cookbooks from back in the day is when they say “a photo with every recipe”. How tantalizing.

As previously mentioned, I got a whopping three Campbell’s cookbooks, the one on the left being the oldest of the three. I find the design change from spiral bound to stapled interesting. They also seemed to have added the blue ribbon to both of the newer ones. Really makes those covers pop. I was also intrigued by the one on the right claiming that it had a whole three dollars worth of coupons inside, so I took a look at them.

I am SO tempted to test if that “no expiration date” claim is true. It has been over twenty years since these coupons were released into the world, and by god I am going to get 25 cents off Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom w/Roasted Garlic soup if it’s the last thing I do.

Aside from the two Bisquick ones, I also got these other two Betty Crocker booklets. I have found through experience that most cookbooks that are only microwave meals, especially those before the year 2000, are TERRIBLE. Like, what even is on the cover there?! Orange slices and the saddest carrot chunks the world has ever seen? Dubious concoction, I say, dubious indeed.

This Tyson brand booklet was one of the only ones I could not find a year on. It is rare that there is no publication info at all, but it does happen from time to time. If I had to guess, with my formidable knowledge on old cookbooks, I’d place this one anywhere from 1995 to 2005.

The most interesting thing about this booklet was that the recipes inside were submitted by Tyson’s plant employees.

The first place winner, Mattie, had been working at the plant for 28 years. TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS. At Tyson. A place known for its awful treatment of employees (and animals). Does she still work there to this day? Does she still make her award-winning chicken breast supreme? I must know her story.

Along with the Tyson one, this Swanson Broth booklet had no year listed either, but whatever year it was, computers looked like this:

Thank GOD Swanson Broth is online for all my brothy needs.

These three are relatively un-notable. I am intrigued by the prevalent redness amongst their covers though. I actually am a huge fan of Christmas Cookie editions of popular magazines like that Taste of Home one, and I usually buy one a year on impulse in the checkout line of the store. I mean who doesn’t love holiday-themed desserts?! I also believe that Taste of Home one is the most recent out of everything I’ve procured, being from 2007. That’s just a guess though since a couple of them didn’t have years.

Finally, my personal favorite of the bunch, this lovely 1969 “Meals for Two”:

Published in Chicago and made by the Culinary Institute of America, this 60-year-old, 50-cent booklet is the thing I’m most pleased with out of the various booklets. With a whole page dedicated to “cooling beverages”, there’s so much to love:

There’s also classic favorites you’re sure to love, such as tuna-sour cream dip, and cottage cheese-deviled ham dip.

I am totally going to make these.

Anyways, that’s everything I got for a dollar! I am super pleased with my mini haul, and I definitely recommend buying a mystery bag from your local bookstore if given the chance. I will likely go back for more the next time I’m in the area.

Which is your favorite? Or at least looks the least terrible (almost all cookbooks from the early 2000s are just the worst)? Do you happen to have any of these lovely booklets? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


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