My book club recently read a book that I think we all enjoyed. It was Chop Chop by Simon Wroe. Let me just say first of all, that I am obviously a wonderful person because I’m going to give a glowing review of this book, even though the author’s publisher let us know that his entirely too busy to even be bothered to consider Skyping with our book club. Maybe since I just included that in this review, I am indeed not a bigger person. Maybe the book was just good. Yep, that’s probably it.
Anyway, it was my turn to choose the book for my book club. As a general rule, I tend toward nonfiction or YA. But the purpose of our book club is to get us all reading outside of our rut. Bunch of homeschooling/library types getting geeky over books. So I frequently find myself reading first novels. I like catching an author early in their career. If I like their work, I love recommending them to patrons. When appropriate and budget allows, I do my best to get the good ones on the library shelves. But really, I selected this book because I’d just finished a round of Anthony Bourdain books and the description of Chop, Chop as a vulgar, hilariously funny look inside a restaurant kitchen seemed like the perfect end cap to the literary journey. It was.
There are quite a few debates as to whether this book is a chronicle of life in a kitchen, family journey, or coming of age novel. I can definitely support an argument for each of those, but I loved it because it was true to all of those. I’ve worked in the kitchen where cruelty – though not to the extent described – is the method to show affection. The struggle to wade through family struggles together, no matter the personal burden rang true to me. And certainly one of the most defining moments for me was the moment that I realized that the main character, Monocle, had matured, even if he hadn’t come to the same realization.
So what is the book really about? A young man finishes college and refuses to return to his family home. The sorrow of lost dreams, a deceased brother, and personal feelings of inadequacy cause him to pursue other options for survival. At this point survival means making rent, by the end of the book the definition of survival has shifted considerably.
I enjoy this author’s descriptive style. Monocle’s father is described as a born winner who worked his way down. Is that not the best? I know people like that. Odds are you do as well. No need to get all tied up in describing all of the peaks and valleys, when it can be wrapped up with a bow in just that one sentence. Some members of the book club wished that the author had greater economy with words. Parts of the story wonder off a bit to share the main character’s background and family. For me this side venture into family is where the heart of the story lies. For some of the members of the club, the heart of the story is in the kitchen. It will be interesting to hear which it is for you, so please do let me know.
Another aspect of the story that I greatly enjoyed, especially as it relates to being a book club selection, is the conversation points. There are a variety of points within the story where a different decision would have veered completely. At one point, without giving away any spoilers, is an opportunity for the main character to remain in a safe, but soul sucking, job or return to previous employment with emotional attachment. Boy, you will learn a lot about perfect strangers as you discuss the positives and negatives of these choices.
Final aspect, I enjoyed the humor. The humor was a bit absurd. It was frequently off color. Perhaps a bit juvenile, or at least teen age boyish. This makes it exactly my cup of tea.
For the book club discussion, we went to Buca di beppo to sit at the kitchen table. As it turns out, and I’ve forgotten after being many years removed, it’s as hot as Hades in a restaurant kitchen. You can’t drink wine and be delinquent in there either. So we moved out to the dining room. Had I hosted at home, I would have served what I fondly call ‘Pub Soup’ in honor of this book. It came to me by way of a neighbor so my apologies for not crediting some internet source.
2 individual size frozen dinners – lasagna variety
1 carton beef stock
1-2 T Italian seasoning
Thaw frozen dinners in the refrigerator over night. Cut into 1 inch squares. Place in small crockpot. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Pour stock over. Turn on low for 6 – 8 hours.