Whether you’re more into New York style bagels or Montreal bagels, apparently Bagel Day was yesterday (Jan 15), and though we’re a little late onto this train, you can learn about the history of the humble bagel in The Bagel by Maria Balinska – yes, an entire book dedicated to it – along with a variety of recipes you can use to try your hand at making your own, so you can put whatever toppings and seasonings you like!
For a variety of different ways to make challahs, babkas, bagels, and more, check out Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna. The bagels in this one are New York-style bagels, and they come in a variety of incarnations, from plain bagels and whole wheat ones to jalapeno cheddar bagels and sweeter varieties like blueberry (classic) and cinnamon raisin, you’ll have enough bagels for all your sandwich desires! What I really like about this book is that it also contains lots of step-by-step shaping photo instructions, guiding you through how to shape your bagel dough, yes, but also the different ways you can braid your challah (in addition to the many-numbered strands, there’s also stuffed challah. Stuffed with delicious filling challah) and a clear demonstration of how to shape a babka.
So fine, if you insist. This is a witch hunt. We’re witches, and we’re hunting you. (The Witches are Coming: Introduction)
Let’s start off with this energy.*
Which is a bit of a step up from Shrill just 3 years ago. The same type of humour is there – to be perfectly honest, not the style I usually go for, but West makes many a good point – but I have to say, it’s pretty clear what’s changed in her writing (though there is also plenty that has not): West is noticeably more exasperated (perhaps because things have not improved since she wrote the essays from Shrill?); angrier, that she’s writing this at all (as she notes in her chapter on internet trolls: “I keep vowing to never write about internet trolls again, but unfortunately my country’s… ignoring the screams of the marginalized has made internet trolls not just culturally relevant or politically relevant but historically relevant. So here I am – one more troll chapter” (Leave Hell to the Devils); one hopes this is the last troll chapter West will have to write). The Witches are Coming is like Shrill’s more cynical, jaded cousin. So of course, in many ways, I loved it.
No one has ever seen an eel in the Sargasso Sea.
This line repeats, over and over, in different manifestations throughout the book. A bit like the eel. We know – we think, given the information we have available – they spawn in the Sargasso Sea, but “no one has ever seen a mature eel in the Sargasso Sea” (Svensson, The Book of Eels. c.15: The Long Journey Home); “no human has ever seen an eel in the Sargasso Sea” (c.3: Aristotle and the Eel Born of Mud); “no one has ever seen an eel in the Sargasso Sea” (c.15). It’s almost poetic the way this line repeats itself, undulating through the text as though through waves, following it from beginning to end as if to underscore that no, the eel question has not – cannot? – be answered. Even the place whence it comes is ill defined, “[t]he Sargasso Sea is actually less a clearly defined body of water than a sea within a sea. Where it starts and where it ends is difficult to determine” (c.1: The Eel). The eel remains mysterious.
Aristotle thought they spontaneously generated out of mud. Freud – yes, Sigmund himself – dissected 400 eels attempting to locate the eel’s male reproductive organs, before becoming the father of psychoanalysis. (He failed.) Johannes Schmidt, the man who is credited with finding the birthplace of the eel (for good reason), spent almost two decades looking at tiny baby eels (resembling tiny willow leaves) under a microscope, trawling the sea, before concluding that they likely breed in the Sargasso Sea. Shortly after he published his results and was awarded the Darwin Medal by the Royal Society of London, he died of the flu.
Undulating smoothly from chapter to chapter between memories that seem to shift as Svensson recounts them, their accuracy less important than what is recounted and what import they hold for Svensson himself, and historical tidbits about the history of scientific investigation into the eel and the many ways in which, despite our efforts, the eel has continued to elude us. Svensson is clearly fascinated by this creature, Anguilla anguilla, and his recounting of his memories of his father, the two of them finding common ground in the eel, is incredibly tender.