A Trio of Nonfiction Book Reviews for the End of Winter

Here’s a look at three books I’ve had to myself for far too long…

Brian James Freeman (ed.), Reading Stephen King

I remember being eleven years old, clutching a shiny new paperback copy of The Shining. (Yes, my parents bought it for me. They were cool with me reading anything, as long as I was reading.) These essays may be preaching to the choir, but that’s alright. I’m digging the sermon. This collection has the vibe of King’s Danse Macabre – a feeling that you’re not really reading, you’re having a mind conversation.

Stewart O’Nan’s opening salvo, “Sometimes You Go Back”, encapsulates everything I love about “Early King”. (It’s no secret that The Stand is my all time favorite book.) O’Nan gives words to the feeling I feel whenever I reread King, or revisit *any* favorite haunt of mine. The comfort of coming home. The house on the hill may be creepy and the sewers are definitely not safe, but it’s home.  The essays here include Richard Chizmar on the truth of King’s stories, Stephen Spignesi deconstructing King’s ability to draw us into his works and what it means to write, and Tony Magistrale on King being “subpar” – HAH! – in most literary and academic groups. But there’s more; Frank Darabont, Clive Barker, Mick Garris and so many more pay tribute to the King. My only complaint? I wish there was a brief sentence or two intro at the start of each essay. Just so I can know the essayist a bit. Because I’m lazy and hate to Google when I read something I’m sucked into.

I have to admit I took this book everywhere. The gym, restaurants, my bathroom… And I ain’t ashamed. Much like King’s work, I was hooked.

(Cemetery Dance, 2017)

Jen Agg, I Hear She’s A Real Bitch

A look behind the kitchen door, into the world of restaurants, chefs and what it takes to thrive in this business, Agg’s unflinching look at her life feels like a master class in the art of running a restaurant, but I’m sure it’s just a tip of the iceberg. NOTHING is off the table, from her life as a suburban teen (complete with exploratory vibrator sessions) and falling in love to running her award-winning restaurants and her love of food. Agg has a charming prose style, one that feels as if you’re sitting right next to her at a bar, sharing some charcuterie. And it’s just as delicious.

While she calls herself a “bad feminist”, the book is ripe with bits on how women are treated in the world, shining the light on what she’s done in her own life that fed the patriarchal beast. In fact, by leaving no stone unturned in this memoir, Agg shows feminism in its warts-and-all splendor. Throw in pictures from an illustration of a charcuterie board to Bogie and Bacall, and you’ve got one delicious book you may just devour in one sitting.

(Penguin, 2017)

Lucy Burningham,  My Beer Year

With the subtitle of “Adventures with hop farmers, craft brewers, chefs, beer sommeliers & fanatical drinkers as a beer master in training”, it sounds like a lot to dig into. And it is; the Master Cicerone is beer’s equivalent to wine’s Master Sommelier. And when Burningham decided to take the leap and get her certification, she’d no idea the level of dedication she’d signed up for. Luckily, she tackles her year of living with beer just as dutifully as she did her beer studies, delivering a fun real-life tale. Burningham talks about her life, beer, beer history (including the role women played in the early millennia of brewing), and the Cicerone program with equal passion. This is a woman who not only knows beer, but knows herself. I was equal parts charmed and jealous as hell. This is a gal I’d love to share a few pints with, not only because she knows her beer stuff, but because she seems like a great pub-mate.

Are there some hiccups? Sure. When comparing the GABF to SDCC, she says, “like Comic-Con does for Trekkies…” Oh punkin’. Obviously she a normie. Burningham also drops a few names in beer history – past and present – with no background. Thank goodness for Google, because I’d no idea Josef Groll created Pilsner Urquell. This only confirmed exactly how much of a beer dilettante I truly am.

Getting an insiders look at how beer is made, hops are grown and selected, and everything else that goes on behind the scenes is fascinating to this beer novice. There’s a lot of great information about beer, brewing, and even cleaning up. Yep, cleaning up. Ever see sludge come out of your washer or jet tub? Ick. As much as I wanted to crack open a few of my favorite brews while reading – when in Rome – I decided against it. I didn’t want the aromas and tastes I was experiencing to muddle the stories and information Burningham was laying down.

(Roost Books/Shambhala Publications, 2016)


Denise Kitashima Dutton has been a reviewer since 2003, and hopes to get the hang of things any moment now. She believes that bluegrass is not hell in music form, and that beer is better when it’s a nitro pour. Besides GMR, you can find her at Atomic Fangirl, Movie-Blogger.com, or at that end seat at the bar, multi-tasking with her Kindle.