Highlights from 2017 Books With Northeast Ohio Ties
This year Northeast Ohio based writers and those with roots in the region wrote some very fine works.
Among them was James Beard award-winning writer Michael Ruhlman’s latest book, “Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America.” Ruhlman takes readers behind the scenes of the grocery store, a place that they visit on-average twice a week and spend around 10 percent of household income.
When Ruhlman spoke to ideastream, he shared why he thought more hadn’t been written about this important institution in our daily lives.
“We aren’t reflective about grocery stores. If we think about them at all, we think of them of being a chore. In fact, they’re a marvel of civilization. This whole country, more or less can get all the food it wants, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Ruhlman said.
Ruhlman tells the story of the evolution of the modern grocery store through the lens of Heinen’s, a local chain where Ruhlman’s parents shopped when he was a child and he bought his groceries during his years living in Northeast Ohio.
Michael explained that Heinen’s was small enough so that he could get a handle on what they do, but large enough to be representative of a real grocery store chain.
In “Grocery,” Ruhlman explores a number of challenges stores face, including the razor-thin profit margin on which most chains operate, as well as how they will have to deal with online retailing.
Another writer with strong Northeast Ohio ties, Celeste Ng published her second novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” which is set in Shaker Heights. Ng said it took moving away from Shaker to give her a clearer perspective on both the strengths and shortcomings of the city where she was raised.
“I was at the point where I could see my hometown with some nostalgia, but also with some clarity. That’s what led me into the book, that tension between the idealism that says you can make a perfect community and the messiness of everyday life.”
That conflict is explored in the relationship between two families at the center of the novel, the Richardson’s, who very much embody the community’s spirit of both progress and order and the Warren’s, a bohemian mother and her daughter who rent property from the Richardson’s.
The darkly humorous book centers around a modern day Jordanian family living in a small border town where the conflict in nearby Syria looms large.
In “Mother of All Pigs,” Halasa seeks to show that when it comes to the Middle East, there’s more to the story shows than just ISIS and the repression of women. She feels the obsession with those narratives often obscures a much larger story, especially when it comes to the progress women are making.
“It almost seems like people fixate on the niqab or the hijab, but really there is a lot of activities that women are doing, so there is all this change in the region happening on an elemental level, but somehow isn’t making the international news,” Halasa said.
Hear ideastream's Dan Polletta's conversation with Michael Ruhlman
Hear Dan's conversation with Celeste Ng
Hear Dan's conversation with Malu Halasa