Upside-down cupcakes, Sally Bell’s Kitchen.
Just as in Evan S. Connell’s The Connoisseur, a pre-Columbian figurine caught my eye—in this case, on the book’s cover. I had enjoyed the understated yet resonant interview with Connell we published earlier this year (the man knew how to change the subject!), and I was equally moved by the book, the story of a Manhattan insurance executive who becomes hopelessly, inextricably obsessed with the aforementioned figurines. There are no frills, plot twists, or explosions: simply a series of small choices that can change a life forever. As the protagonist reflects near the end of the book, “[H]e has acquired a little knowledge, perhaps no deeper than a root trace, which can’t be lost.” —Justin Alvarez
I have a terrible feeling that A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps may be a hard sell for some readers. But trust me: Chris West’s cultural history is fast paced and engaging, and the organizing principle takes the narrative in all kinds of unexpected directions. Sure, there’s a little light philately in there, but even those who only communicate electronically will be glad they picked it up. —Sadie O. Stein
After the success of the television show based on Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, Morse’s onetime sidekick “Robbie” Lewis was given both a promotion and his own series. In Inspector Lewis, Kevin Whatley reprises his role as the Oxford Police employee who’d rather have a pint and support Newcastle United than waste time dabbling in the fine arts. But, alas, Lewis lives and works in Oxford, and thus must continually contend with the pretentious antics of academics in the course of his investigations. Luckily, Lewis’s partner is himself a Cambridge alumnus; DS James Hathaway, played by a wry Laurence Fox, is always on hand to quote Nietzsche or recognize a veiled reference to Greek mythology. If all this odd coupling sounds a little formulaic, it’s because Lewis is formulaic, sometimes preposterously so—think secret societies meeting in Oxford cellars; secluded, scheming millionaires; “eccentric” dons, etc.—but an Anglophile like myself can’t help but be seduced by its genteel charm. —Fritz Huber
Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked centers on the stagnant, fifteen-year relationship between a couple in a North England seaside town called Gooleness, “not far from Bronte county.” When Duncan’s favorite musician, a reclusive has-been named Tucker Crowe, releases an acoustic version of his twenty-year-old hit album, their relationship fissures: he loves the album and Annie hates it. Duncan lets Annie post a critical essay on his fan site, and they eventually meet. The reality is, to say the least, anticlimactic. But then, “The short visit of a middle-aged man and his young son shouldn’t be a gourmet pastry; it should be a store-bought egg salad sandwich.” And the book is just that: a store-bought egg salad sandwich that turns out to be surprisingly good. —Nikkitha Bakshani
All my friends know about my interest in—not to say, obsession with—Sally Bell’s Kitchen, a venerable, family-owned Richmond bakery renowned for its box lunches. Although I have traveled to RVA several times, I’ve never managed to time my visits with Sally Bell’s hours, which small fact has not stopped me from mooning over their menu, sporting an apron emblazoned with their signature silhouette logo, and wondering resentfully why New York doesn’t have a lunch spot that will provide me with a chicken salad sandwich, cup of potato salad, deviled-egg half, and upside-down caramel cupcake. (I find the “diet” box option—a turkey sandwich, tomato aspic, hard-boiled egg and plain cupcake—particularly endearing, and in emotional moods the mere thought of the plain cupcake is enough to reduce me to tears.) I don’t know why it took me so long to run across this video devoted to Sally Bell’s, but in a way I’m glad to have only just discovered it; it made my week! If eleven minutes seems like a bit of a commitment (many of my friends seem, inexplicably, to feel this way), here is a thirty-second trailer. —S.O.S.
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