The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

The Literary Kitchen

Well, y’all, spring is here. I know, I know, it’s not, like, HERE here, but it’s totally here! It’s March! I don’t even care that there is snow on the ground, like, past my ankles. I don’t care that I wouldn’t wear a skirt without leggings no matter how much you paid me, and that my furry fake Ugg boots are about to need retirement for the season. It’s still spring, and with spring comes food. And farmers markets. And flowers. And finally getting to feel like, you know, a human again – a human who can touch grass and feel the wind without yelling obscenities and running for the nearest indoor location. Mostly, though, I know its spring because I’m getting that urge I get every spring: to read books about cooking, more specifically books about cooking by people who can cook WAY better than I can. In other, words, friends, this post is all about two words: Book. List.

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For the record, none of these book I’ve read yet. They are all just the ones that I’ve been book-stalking on Goodreads, trying to track down a copy (for free) with as little wait as possible (kind of a bummer at my library, which I swear only orders ONE COPY OF LIKE EVERYTHING – side rant: more than two people want to read Gone, Girl at any given point in time, alright?! Just accept it and ORDER MORE!). I’ve went ahead and given you guys the Goodreads summary, in case you don’t trust a famous name a pretty cover as much as I do when it comes to books about food. I tried to find a range of books covering famous cooks, people doing cool food challenges – I’m a TOTAL sucker for anything having the format of “do _____ for a year” – and books about food history, culture, or politics. Or all of the above. With that said, grab a piece of pie and some whiskey (what, is that not a thing you just, like, have around all the time?) and enjoy the Literary Kitchen Book List of 2013, or Some Such Title.

139220In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes the frenetic experience of working in Babbo’s kitchen: the trials and errors (and more errors), humiliations and hopes, disappointments and triumphs as he worked his way up the ladder from slave to cook. He talks about his relationships with his kitchen colleagues and with the larger-than-life, hard-living Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters.

 

 

164428In the winter of 1996, Michael Ruhlman donned hounds-tooth-check pants and a chef’s jacket and entered the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, to learn the art of cooking. His vivid and energetic record of that experience, The Making of a Chef, takes us to the heart of this food-knowledge mecca. Here we meet a coterie of talented chefs, an astonishing and driven breed. Ruhlman learns fundamental skills and information about the behavior of food that make cooking anything possible. Ultimately, he propels himself and his readers through a score of kitchens and classrooms, from Asian and American regional cuisines to lunch cookery and even table waiting, in search of the elusive, unnameable elements of great cooking.

 

880773In 2003, Kathleen Flinn, a thirty-six-year-old American living and working in London, returned from vacation to find that her corporate job had been eliminated. Ignoring her mother’s advice that she get another job immediately or “never get hired anywhere ever again,” Flinn instead cleared out her savings and moved to Paris to pursue a dream-a diploma from the famed Le Cordon Bleu.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cryis the touching and remarkably funny account of Flinn’s transformation as she moves through the school’s intense program and falls deeply in love along the way. Flinn interweaves more than two dozen recipes with a unique look inside Le Cordon Bleu amid battles with demanding chefs, competitive classmates, and her “wretchedly inadequate” French. Flinn offers a vibrant portrait of Paris, one in which the sights and sounds of the city’s street markets and purveyors come alive in rich detail.

8459594Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

 

19132Like manufacturing cigarettes or building weapons, making food is very big business. Food companies in 2000 generated nearly $900 billion in sales. They have stakeholders to please, shareholders to satisfy, and government regulations to deal with. It is nevertheless shocking to learn precisely how food companies lobby officials, co-opt experts, and expand sales by marketing to children, members of minority groups, and people in developing countries. We learn that the food industry plays politics as well as or better than other industries, not least because so much of its activity takes place outside the public view…No wonder most of us are thoroughly confused about what to eat to stay healthy. An accessible and balanced account, Food Politics will forever change the way we respond to food industry marketing practices. By explaining how much the food industry influences government nutrition policies and how cleverly it links its interests to those of nutrition experts, this pathbreaking book helps us understand more clearly than ever before what we eat and why.

421393 It wouldn’t be easy. Stepping outside the industrial food system, Smith and MacKinnon found themselves relying on World War II–era cookbooks and maverick farmers who refused to play by the rules of a global economy. What began as a struggle slowly transformed into one of the deepest pleasures of their lives. For the first time they felt connected to the people and the places that sustain them. For Smith and MacKinnon, the 100-mile diet became a journey whose destination was, simply, home. From the satisfaction of pulling their own crop of garlic out of the earth to pitched battles over canning tomatoes, Plenty is about eating locally and thinking globally.  The authors’ food-focused experiment questions globalization, monoculture, the oil economy, environmental collapse, and the tattering threads of community. Thought-provoking and inspiring, Plenty offers more than a way of eating. In the end, it’s a new way of looking at the world.

40136Bestselling chef and No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain has never been one to pull punches. In The Nasty Bits, he serves up a well-seasoned hellbroth of candid, often outrageous stories from his worldwide misadventures. Whether scrounging for eel in the backstreets of Hanoi, revealing what you didn’t want to know about the more unglamorous aspects of making television, calling for the head of raw food activist Woody Harrelson, or confessing to lobster-killing guilt, Bourdain is as entertaining as ever. Bringing together the best of his previously uncollected nonfiction–and including new, never-before-published material–The Nasty Bits is a rude, funny, brutal and passionate stew for fans and the uninitiated alike.

 

6164628For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill, tomatoes on their fire escape, or obsessed over the offerings at the local farmers’ market, Carpenter’s story will capture your heart. And if you’ve ever considered leaving it all behind to become a farmer outside the city limits, or looked at the abandoned lot next door with a gleam in your eye, consider this both a cautionary tale and a full-throated call to action. Farm City is an unforgettably charming memoir, full of hilarious moments, fascinating farmers’ tips, and a great deal of heart. It is also a moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world and what we have given up to live the way we do.

 

835313Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in Abyssinia to its role in intrigue in the American colonies to its rise as a national consumer product in the twentieth century and its rediscovery with the advent of Starbucks at the end of the century. A panoramic epic, Uncommon Grounds uses coffee production, trade, and consumption as a window through which to view broad historical themes: the clash and blending of cultures, the rise of marketing and the “national brand,” assembly line mass production, and urbanization. Coffeehouses have provided places to plan revolutions, write poetry, do business, and meet friends. The coffee industry has dominated and molded the economy, politics, and social structure of entire countries. Mark Pendergrast introduces the reader to an eccentric cast of characters, all of them with a passion for the golden bean. Uncommon Grounds is nothing less than a coffee-flavored history of the world.

11550559 After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn’s “chefternal” instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers’ culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking. (And yes, this is the same Kathleen Flinn who wrote one of the above books!)

 

So, I have to ask – what’s your ‘spring thing’? I know everyone has one… 🙂

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[16] Start Here: Read Your Way into 25 Amazing Authors

Start Here

I first saw this book advertised earlier this week on the bottom of Bookriot’s RSS feed, and I basically immediately went to Amazon and, clicky-clicky, had the book in my possession minutes later. And, yet again, I’m SO THANKFUL for that “Buy it Now!” button, because foe $2.99 I’ve got 25 succinct but loving introductions for 25 authors – some of whom I’ve never heard of, and some of whom I’ve been looking forward to breaking in to very soon (probably even sooner now, if we’re being honest). Some of my favorite Book Riot contributors/bloggers contributed chapters (a million cheers for Amanda Nelson and Kit Steinkellner!) and the whole thing is edited by Jeff O’Neal and Rebecca Joines Schinsky, the genius minds behind Book Riot. The whole things was just really lovely, because it was kind of like looking in to 25 different windows while all these contributors happen to be having loving conversations about some of their favorite authors.

The book covers a really nice range of genres, styles, and time periods (as well as ‘classical’ and ‘commercial’ authors, if that’s a distinction you make a lot in your mind – don’t worry, I won’t judge you for it) and I marked titles by Italo Calvino, Philip K. Dick. E.M. Forster, John Irving, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Herman Melville, Arthur Miller, Alice Munro, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Russo, and Zadie Smith – and that’s not even half of the chapters that are available to pluck titles from! This may not be the kind of book that other people will sit down and read cover to cover, but I get kind of a huge literary crush on books about books, and it’s especially thrilling to see the voices of people you “know” (which, as we all know, really means “have read for years via the internet”) in print telling you to go read great books. And, regardless of how many sessions you read it in, it’s a great book to have on hand, especially for when you have a vague idea of where you’d like to start, reading-wise, and just need a bit more help jumping in to a definitive work!

If there is one thing that I wish the book had done a bit more of, it would be that I wish they had expanded the number of titles recommended for each author – most stuck to a three to four book range, with the occasional extra title thrown in for good measure. For some authors, I totally get this, but for others – especially like Dickens or Stephen King, who JUST WROTE ALL THE BOOKS OH MY GOD ITS SICKENING – I felt like I just would have liked a bit more of a selection, or a bit of a more extended discussion of the diversity of the titles and which might be better for some situations than others (because of length, genre, tone, etc.). But, then again, that’s not really what this book was about, so it’s really just me being kind of a bitch and stomping my feet and yelling

I want it nowBUT I WANT IT NOW!!!!!!

I really did enjoy seeing so many titles and authors I’d read, as well as the dozens I haven’t, and like so many of my Kindle books, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to get a hard copy of this one as soon as I can!

Rating: Hell yeah!

PS: GO BUY THIS BOOK. YOU WILL NOT REGRET. There. I have unashamedly plugged this book, which no one has asked me to do but which I will do because I think this book was the cats pajamas!

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[14] Tiny Beautiful Things

The following post is lifted straight from my reading journal, which isn’t something I regularly do, but thought was appropriate in this case.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Writing is hard for every last one of us – straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

I finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed moments ago and basically couldn’t wait to write the journal entry on how much I adored this book. I can think of no better way to round out the years of this commonplace book than talking about the BEAUTIFUL words of Cheryl Strayed as Dear Sugar (Dear Sugar was an anonymous advice column published on therumpus.net, and was kept anonymous until 2012 when Cheryl came clean as the voice behind the advice).

So much of what Cheryl has to say on life and love and death and our capacities to change our own lives was truly spot-on and the kind of beautifully rendered wisdom I wish I had. And the kind I may just get tattooed on my body one day. The phrases and images she uses to describe everything from the birth of her children to the sexual abuse she experienced as a child are not only gut-punching, they’re real enough to exist in something similar you’ve gone through. I think that, if there is any book I will need to read aver the eventual passing of my mother, it will be this one. Side note – this, I already know, will be the darkest day of my entire life, and thus is also one of my biggest fears. But the way Cheryl put words to her pain – as well as leaving the all-so-vital space between the words – makes me know that one day I’m going to need to read them again. And maybe again after that – a hundred different times AT a hundred different times, because I feel like each new time there will be something else to get out of her words, some new mirror to look back at myself through.

It was mercy. That’s that the fuck it was. The fuck was mine. And the fuck is yours, too. The question ‘WTF’ does not ‘apply to everything, every day’. If it does, you’re a lazy coward. Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.

Cheryl Strayed has basically given me a giant literary boner, and I’m excited to finish her nonfiction Wild and start her novel. If I had one overarching squabble over the whole thing, it would be that, reading all the columns in one (or three) sittings made some of the letters run together, and made me skim through a few of the letters in the middle that didn’t stand out quite as much. But really, it was all so beautiful that this flaw was basically of my own creation because I just DID NOT want to put the book down. I may have to buy a zillion more copies of this book so that any time sometime I know is having a family/love/work/kid/death/life problem I can hand it to them and say “here, sweet pea. This’ll help. Promise.”

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[12] One for the Books

People who prefer e-books…think that books merely take up space. This is true, but so do your children and Prague and the Sistine Chapel.

Oh, Joe. Whaddaya know? Apparently, this Joe knows all about books – which ones to read, which ones to NOT read, and of course how to read and not read them. I loved this book, but I’m left at a loss as to what to say about it. It was a great, quick non-fiction read, and was a book about books. Thus, it was and is basically gold. I’d give you the Goodreads synopsis, but this time I like mine better:

Books are awesome. We should all read books, but not books that other people recommend (unless you have great friends with rare and amazing tastes) and not ebooks, which of course are not nearly as good as real books. Books are special and life is short, so read good ones and surround yourself with good ones. Read widely but personally, but not ebooks. Also, fuck ebooks.

And there you have it folks. Joe Queenan in a nutshell. I think that Joe most likely has his right to have such a crotchety opinion (“Joe Queenan is a humorist, critic and author from Philadelphia who graduated from Saint Joseph’s University. He has written for numerous publications, such as Spy Magazine, TV Guide, Movieline, The Guardian and the New York Times Book Review. He has written eight books, including Balsamic Dreams, a scathing critique of the Baby Boomers, Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon, a tour of low-brow American pop culture and Imperial Caddy, a fairly scathing view of Dan Quayle and the American Vice-Presidency. Queenan’s work is noted for his caustic wit.” – and yes, that I legit picked that shit up straight from Goodreads) and this whole experience was kind of like sitting near your really well read and literate grandpa while he talks about how good things were in the ‘good ole’ days’ and how everything now is headed to hell in a hand basket. Sure, some of the time I felt like what Ole’ Joe was saying seemed a little harsh for my way of reading – I for one love giving and receiving book recommendations, as I believe it’s my job to take those recommendations and narrow down to the ones that fit for me – but he’s not exactly trying to say that his way is the only way. Maybe the best way, but not the only way. I don’t necessarily agree, as I have an e-reader (a couple, actually, with perhaps another one coming soon – ah, the technological rat race), I think this about sums up what its like to sit down and have a 250 page adventure with Grandpa Joe:

Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on.

Rating: Hell yeah!

EDIT:: Amanda from Dead White Guys and Book Riot didn’t come away with the same feelings I did, but she makes some really valid and HOLY SHIT HILARIOUS points in her GIF reply to One for the Books!

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[11] Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

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‘I did not know people your age still read books,’ Penumbra says. He raises an eyebrow. ‘I was under the impression the read everything on their mobile phones.’

Clay Jannon is a young man of the Google age who, after losing his job marketing the start-up NewBagel, gets a job working the overnight shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. There, a significant part of his job is to keep track of all the people who come into the shop – what they look like, what they buy (or borrow!), and what their mental state is. Soon, noticing an number of oddities about the job, the shop, and the clientele, and with the help of a tech-savvy roommate, rich best friend, and computer-genius quasi-girlfriend, he discovers a secret code buried deep within the books of the store – as well as a loyal cult dedicated to unraveling the code. Soon, Clay and his friends are harnessing the full power of Google, the expertise of librarians, and 15th century letter punches, to unravel the secrets of eternity. It’s an ancient tale spurred by the full reaches of contemporary technological power.

The shelves were packed close together, and it felts like I was standing at the border of a forest – not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvania forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.

One of the more stand-out things about this novel is the really beautiful and philosophical nature of technology. Not only is Google the most used search engine, but to hear Robin Sloan describe it, the people there are also pushing the boundaries of human existence. While I don’t believe I’m one of those “OHMIGOD FACEBOOK AND THE INTERWEBZ IS JUST THE BEST THANG EVA” people, but as this book points out, technology gives us the chance to question how we define and conceptualize what it means to be immortal, how we define time and space relative to factors like our instantaneous ability to share information over the internet, and what happens when classic and modern meet (ebooks? audiobooks? Goodreads and Librarything? Podcasts?)

To be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled with the actual plot of this book – weird book cults and rouge Google employees sounds good on the surface and is just…awkward on the page. I loved the scenes at Google (and naievely hope that they’re all true), and by far my favorite character is Kat Potente, the female Google goddess who, while expectedly pixie-like and psuedo-individualistic, is still totally adorable. All in all, the ideas in this book were way more exciting than the plot or process of reading the book itself.

Remember this: A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Rating: Okay

PS (because I’m me and I can’t kind of talk about philosophy – or do a post in general ever – without my favorite philosoraptor EVER):

philosoraptor-professor-x

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[08] Rocket Boys

Growing up, I was never a science kid. Anyone who knows me knows this isn’t at all surprising, as I am even less of a math person – give me English, history, or the social sciences any day of the week! But reading Rocketboys was the chance to see what it would be like to indeed be a science kid, the kind of person who can look at pages full of equations, diagrams, and numbers and see not chaos, but something supremely beautiful, bordering on magic. That’s the kind of experience Homer Hickam Jr. tells in Rocket Boys, a book that was turned in to the AH-MAZING Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky. Homer and his friend Odell, Roy Lee, Quentin, and Sherman were all teenagers in 1950’s West Virginia, living in a small mining town named Coalwood, deep in the valleys of the Appalachian mountains. Fascinated by space and the launch of Sputnik satellite, Homer and his friend learn everything they can about building rockets – through trial and error, self-teaching from textbooks, and the support of a speculative and unsure, but ultimately loyal, community. The boys end up winning the National Science Fair, and many of them go on to careers involving the space program.

This book made me interested in rockets and physics and chemistry in a way that no book has since I read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. Not only does Homer do a great job of breaking down the science and taking the reader through his thought process as he and the boys tried and failed and tried again. But more pervasive throughout the book is the feeling that Homer has of not belonging, of being a part of a community that just can’t understand why and how a boy like Homer Hickam is supposed to go to college and join the likes of Warner Vaun Braun in the space program. The feeling of being suffocated by the community and physical geography around you is made crystal clear, as Homer describes time and time again how the mountains that surround his village, at once beautiful and comforting, are also a physical manifestation of his feelings of being trapped in a place that he desperately wants to escape.

By the end of the book, Homer comes to realize that it isn’t that he doesn’t belong in Coalwood – indeed, the people of his town made him who he was, that from them he learned resilience, hard work, and supreme loyalty. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the tension established between Homer, his father Homer Sr., his mother Elsie, and the Coalwood Mining Co. Homer’s father is unable to show any kind of sensitivity towards his younger son, who he can’t understand and has nothing in common with (as opposed to Homer’s older brother, Jim, a football star). Homer’s mother tries, and loves Homer, and hates the way his father treats him, but is ultimately the loyal wife. Homer Sr., however, is a company man, and will do any and everything the company asks. As the book progresses, we begin to see that there’s more to Homer Sr. than meets the eye, but we never quite come to a place of complete redemption where he is concerned.

None of these thoughts are coherent. I blame lack of sleep for that – the semester just finished up, but I promised myself I’d get this up before I go hibernate take a nap. Long story short: West Virginia sounds beautiful; coal mining would suck; space is cool, but I still am really bad at science; this is one of the few books that also made an awesome movie.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[03] Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage

OOOOHKAY. So. This book. I feel the need to preface this book analy-cussion thingy (analysis/discussion. get it?) by saying that I am, like, weirdly in love with this show. And with polygamists in general. This interest ranges from the extreme (couldn’t stop reading books like Escape and other FLDS compound related books) to the tame (see book, left) to the completely fictional (DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED about the crap ending to Big Love. Although all my love to Gennifer Goodwin). I don’t know what it is, but I blame the same part of me that decided to be be a sociologist in my undergrad and the part of me that likes to creep on people at the coffee shop to see what they’re ordering. It’s like a look inside a social environment that exists within the parameters of a social structure I also exist in. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

Anyway, so this book is about now famous polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, who are the subjects of the TLC show Sister Wives. If you haven’t watched it, and overwrought reality TV is your thing (sign me up for a double dose, if you please!) then you might just enjoy this kind of “behind the scenes” look at how the Brown family came to be. Only, here’s the thing. THEY ALL SEEM TO HATE EACH OTHER! It’s hilarious. Don’t get me wrong. I understand, as a newly married lady, that I’m just now coming to understand some of the complications, drama, and behind-closed-doors  situations that can, apparently, make married life somewhat difficult from time to time! And I imagine that, once you start adding multiple wives and children in to the mix, things can get a little overwhelming pretty fast. HOWEVER. Something just feels different about this particular familial tale.

The book opens and ends with chapters from Kody, wherein he offers his opinions and his “side” of the story as to how his family came to be, and how they keep functioning amidst the drama (those who watch the show will know that, shortly after ‘coming out’ as polygamists, the family faced ridicule in Utah, and so decided to move the entire family to Las Vegas). Between that, the story of the family unfolds as each of the four wives has a chance to talk about each “phase” of the relationship, including when various children were born and when the other wives came in to the family. The chapters go in order of the wives – Mary, Janelle, Christine, and Robin – and they all, basically, cover the same block of time in each chapter, so the reader seems pretty much the same set of events described from three or four point of views (Robin, the last wife, didn’t offer many opinions on the early years of the marriage). The ONLY  thing is that each of the women seem to say the same thing:

“I was hurt because the other wives misunderstood. Only not really. I misunderstood their misunderstanding. But I didn’t say anything because, you know. Kody. And the family.”

THEY ALL DO IT. So this entire family is essentially just everyone saying “I felt HURT. My feelings were treated BADLY.” But no one ever seemed to realize that if it’s happening to THEM, MAYBE it’s happening to a sister wive. I don’t know. A lot of it came across more like a dorm of girls who all happen to be dating the same man, than it did a personal description of plural marriage and what that’s like. And maybe I’m being unfair. The book never really touted itself as being any kind of description or defense of plural marriage as a whole – just to tell their story. But, as Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility, and I guess I just felt like if the Browns have chosen to make themselves known as a polygamist family, it’s kind of their “job” to ambassador for their lifestyle. Including like writing a better book.

Rating: Eh.

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