Obscure Advent Recommendation: The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman (Laurel-Leaf Books) (9780375895210):  Plummer, Louise: Books - Amazon.com
My elderly copy

Ok, stick with me here — I am about to make a recommendation so obscure, I know it’ll need a little explanation.

So here goes: Louise Plummer’s under-appreciated 1995 YA rom com masterpiece, The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, is the just-for-fun book you should read this Advent. (Or Christmas. Or whenever.)

Kate Bjorkman is doing just fine. She’s a high school senior and lives with her pleasant, humorous parents in a close-knit neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. She classifies herself in the second tier of Christmas happiness, even with Coke-bottle glasses and a 6′ frame, but when her big brother arrives home for Christmas unexpectedly with his new wife and old best friend — the one Kate’s had a crush on for years — suddenly she’s in the running for the top tier of Christmas bliss. But does Richard feel the same way?

I’m really picky about rom coms, both on film and in books. The very best ones, in my opinion, have relatable narrators and likable love interests, but, at least as importantly, a rich community of quirky characters. (Think You’ve Got Mail — or even Notting Hill, where, as far as I’m concerned, the side characters are the only thing that save the movie from its tedious leading couple.) Unlikely Romance has just such a cast: a capable but not obnoxious Pinterest mom (before Pinterest was a thing), a sleepy linguist professor father, nuanced friendships and a life-changing teacher who flits through the pages. Characters offer glimmers of backstories and inside jokes and complicated histories that just might make the villain a little less villainous. This community surrounding Kate makes the stakes both higher and lower: an enduring relationship leading to marriage is the unstated goal, but she has a full life even if Richard never declares his love:

“Anyway, the minute I began walking down Folwell Street, I felt glad to be alive. Even before the hero entered, I was pretty happy with my life. I’m not the sulking type. My father, the linguistics professor, had been playing one of the Brandenburg Concertos when I left, and I felt as if the flute music were trapped inside me and that if I opened my mouth, it would trill out into the night air.”

It’s a funny book, with the kind of whip-smart dialogue I love in Love Walked In, and Kate, a very self-aware narrator, often draws cutting comparisons between real-life romance and the stories she read in her friend’s favorite romance novels. But Plummer’s book is also noteworthy for raising serious questions about romantic love, contrasting the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Kate and Richard with her newlywed brother’s relationship and her parents’ longstanding marriage. Characters cast a critical eye on romantic overtures and grand gestures and instead try to get to the bottom of what makes a real, warm love. It’s a consideration that rewards re-reading at different life stages—I loved it when I first discovered it in my early teens, and I love it still, even when my life stage is much more that of Kate’s parents. I can’t think of an example of another YA book that inquires so seriously into the real work of love — can you?

Family-friendly? I think the book suggests ages 12 and up; I’d skew a bit older for references to virginity, even though the protagonist doesn’t lose hers.

Where to get it: Bookshop.com has it; a lot of local libraries seem to have weeded their copies.

Obscurity level: 9/10; the only people I know who know it are ones I’ve made read it.

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman : All About Romance %
Bringing the cover into the 21st century?

Commonplace Book

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

Note: OK, y’all, I’ve been letting this one roll for about two months, as you’ll see in my cattle call of cakes. Bear with me as I get caught up!Read More »

Commonplace Book, 36 (Week 31)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Refried Black Bean Soup: Note: it looks sinister in prep. It looks a little better when you’re done, but mostly like sludge. Delicious, delicious sludge.

 

 

Yum. Right?

 

 

  • Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole: I made some rookie mistakes that made it salty: I used too many pre-seasoned hash browns and subbed breakfast sausage for plain bulk sausage, which I couldn’t find. But it was still a small miracle: a food-safe, hot, hearty breakfast ready for a breakfast potluck right when I woke up. Highly recommend, just follow the recipe more carefully than I did!
  • Elephant ears. We are baking something most weeks for Police Preschool to fit with the letter of the week (last week was dog biscuits) and WHY CAN’T I MAKE ELEPHANT EARS? They are puff pastry, sugar and cinnamon, rolled out and baked. I’d say I’m an intermediate baker and these are categorized as easy and we ended up with kids wildly gobbling sugar and the dough not slicing as thinly as I wanted and not a single convincingly elephantine ear. But hey. Sugar and cinnamon and puff pastry still tastes good, no matter the travesties committed against it.

What I’m reading:

  • Always and Forever Lara Jean. Fluff, but just the kind of teenager I kind of was, and wish I knew, in high school. And set in Charlottesville just up the road!
  • “Our favorite audiobooks” at LMLD: Pippin has been listening to hours of audiobooks each day. Is this normal?! Is this OK?! Mostly he’s been working through Karen Savage’s Librivox ouvre, so E. Nesbit and the What Katy Did series, and I’ve been trying to encourage him not to meditatively chew on the old iPhone while he listens.

Last year I was thinking about:

  • I was making pizza, apparently, and not sleeping nearly as much. We are pretty solidly in a frozen pizza season much of the time now, especially when we were sans kitchen sink.

Police Preschool in a nutshell: a worksheet from Children’s Church with PRAY FOR POLICE scrawled in.

Commonplace Book, 29

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’ve been fixing:

  • Nada. My most masterful culinary accomplishment in weeks is buying potatoes for John to microwave and serve with chili I had made with my mom back at 5.5 weeks. Also, sometimes I make toast and sit on the grimy kitchen floor as it toasts.

What I’ve been reading:

Well, that’s a horse of a different color, or something. Here goes:

  • The Screwtape Letters: reread for Well Read Mom. I love that with each new pass, new things convict me — this time discussions of who time really belongs to and a striking critique of delicacy, which definitely comes into play when you’re trying to evaluate how much of your morning sick life is legitimate survival and how much is fretful selfishness.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: I know the title is supposed to be cutesy, but it drives me nuts. Otherwise, loved this one about life in the Occupied and postwar Channel Islands. Told in sly epistles for bonus points!
  • The Light Between Oceans: In the early 20th century, an Australian lighthouse keeper and his wife discover a baby and a dead man washed ashore their isolated island. They keep the baby. Hypnotically depressing but with an unexpectedly hopeful ending. (See below.)
  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: Not as good as I was hoping — kind of weirdly veering in places — but still fun. Major Pettigrew has lived his life in genteel English society in a way to uphold the family honor, but when his adult son’s behavior becomes increasingly crass and the Major himself strikes up a friendship with the village shopkeeper, he must decide how important the status quo really is.
  • Blythewood: See, here is where I got really wretchedly sick at nine weeks and dropped all literary pretensions. Young adult; girls at a mysterious boarding school in the early 20th century learn to fight the mysterious denizens of Faerie. But are all the creatures as evil as the girls have been taught? Fine. I don’t know. Probably not worth reading.
  • Red Rising: Life on Mars mining below its surface is hard to the point of slavery, but one miner discovers the truth: other castes rule this and other planets, living in unimaginable luxury. A little like Hunger Games, a little like Ender’s Game, way too violent for me. Also YA.
  • Edgewater: the YA parade continues as I demand plot and escapism. This was more nuanced than I was expecting. A girl raised by her eccentric aunt in their crumbling beachside manor is suddenly reduced to poverty just as she meets the tabloid boy of her dreams. See? It sounds ridiculous.
  • The Shade of the Moon: this is the fourth in a series I read so long ago I had forgotten some key plot points. In short: four years ago a meteor hit the moon out of orbit and towards the earth, causing mondo natural disasters and destroying society as we know it etc. Now our man Jon is a lucky resident of an enclave, a sort of fortress that exploits workers who live in comparative poverty. He’s a spoiled teenager till a new girl in the enclave opens his eyes to social justice. Then he does a bunch of bad things but eventually mends his was. This series is mysterious in its pull for me because parts are really, really grim for YA (rape, brutality) and yet some plot and dialog ring almost middle grade in their triteness. Luckily the series is finally over now so I can’t be lured back in.
  • Everything I Never Told You: in 1970s small town Ohio, the golden child of the biracial Lee family is found drowned in the neighborhood pond. As above, hypnotically depressing, but with an unexpectedly redemptive ending. And look! Twelve weeks and back to adult books, for the moment at least. 

Commonplace Book, 19

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Roasted garlic ciabatta. I linked to my basic ciabatta recipe here but if you add roasted garlic after the initial mixing, you get little chunks and ribbons throughout the whole loaf, and it is so good that I made it twice this week and used up all the roasted garlic in the house. (Hint: you can make a ton of roasted garlic at once with a bag of garlic bulbs from Costco and your trusty slow cooker.)
  • Beefy butternut squash chili. Still more or less like this, but this time with carrots and celery instead of zucchini, diced fine in the hopes J wouldn’t notice it was in there. (He did, but he didn’t mind.)

What I’m reading:

  • Instagram, Social Media, and Keepin’ It Real — It is fashionable to trash social media, and while Instagram is probably responsible for my relentless pursuit of good light and tidy surfaces (one succeeding more than the other), I always think back to a photo album I made a couple springs ago. The pictures were all taken during the fall and winter I was pregnant with Scout, an era that felt long and dull and monotonous, when Pip watched a lot of tv, I ate a lot of cheese (and threw up some of it), and we waited for snow to melt and life to move forward. But the album of that time is beautiful, chronicling the day I strapped on my lower back support and took Pippin to the arboretum’s bulb show with friends; the slow mornings we spent reading and wandering around the apartment; my proud and hopeful face over a blooming belly in the photos I shot in our little dated bathroom. That’s the power of photography: to wrest the good moments from the chaotic and messy and hard.
  • All the Light We Cannot SeeI read it while I was pregnant with Scout, and liked it very much, but I probably wouldn’t be re-reading it if not for Well-Read Moms. So thanks, WRM, because I’m enjoying it all over again:

Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a profession of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.

  • Queen of Shadows, now that I’m done with The Raven King, which had beautiful passages but kind of a flat, tone-deaf ending, I thought: more like the strained optimism and normalcy of HP7 than the haunting LOTR-esque melancholy I would have expected. I don’t know.
  • Present Over Perfect. My least favorite of Shauna Niequist’s stuff, which is not to say I didn’t like it, because she’s wonderful. But I was discussing it with the friend who first introduced the author to me, and we agreed that the shift from primarily narrative to primarily addressed to “you” felt a little self-help-y and less rich than some of her other books.

I now leave you with a picture of Scout and fall leaves, lest you worry that I only photograph my firstborn with autumnal foliage.

Commonplace Book, 17

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • These “cookies.” I think you’ll like them more if you rename them “bites” or “mounds.” (I will forgive the author, as she has the awesome site name, Connoisseurus Veg.) Scout is a little anemic and I’ve dutifully been giving her that disgusting liquid iron vitamin but it makes us both wretched, so I’m trying to find real food supplements and thought I’d start with blackstrap molasses since she (and I!) adore molasses. These are best the first day, but still pretty good, just crumbly, later on.
  • Split pea soup. Do recipes really matter here? I just search for something I can make in the slow cooker that uses ham or bacon or sausage, depending on what I have on hand. It always tastes the same, which is to say, good.

What I’m reading:

  • The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski: A gift from Scout’s godparents, we are attempting to read it aloud to each other — something we did often before kids, but which we struggle to fit in now. But we both love the Inklings, so it’s worth a try, right?
  • BROTHERS KARAMAZOV FOREVER WHY WHY WHY MAKING PROGRESS BUT STILL.
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater: I remember being electrified when I was reading the previous book in this series, morning sick in bed, and realized — hey, she is talking about where I’ll be moving. Henrietta, Virginia, is in the Shenandoah Valley, just like we are, just like the author is, and it’s pretty fun to really resonate with the landscape now.
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I’m going to be real with you: I got this book because everyone recommended it and because it was on sale as an ebook and because I’ve pretty much got laundry and meals down, which, according to Like Mother, Like Daughter means it’s time to expand my efforts (which for me, means I really need to start thinking about my floors), but IT IS STRESSING ME OUT. She is so casual about all the things I should be doing and I cannot. Is there an equivalent book for people who don’t know what they’re doing and have small children coming up behind them, messing everything up? I’m trying to stick it out, though, because I love her general premises, as when she argues:

“Home life as a whole has contracted. Less happens at home; less time is spent there.”

Yes, Mendelson, yes! That’s some serious Wendell Berry shiz right there —  and that very observation has been shaping the aspirations J and I hold for our home for the last few years. So, if I can stop being so defensive about never EVER dusting, I hope I can make it through this book, because I just know she has good things to say.