Edinburgh Books and Writers

Off the tourist driven Royal Mile, down a secluded alley – called a Close – the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh welcomes readers with quiet homage to a few of Scotland’s greatest writers – Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott. Steep winding staircases lead to rooms in a restored 17th century house, displaying first editions, writing instruments, even desks used by the authors. Of course, their portraits are everywhere.

A poster in the gift shop advertised the Edinburgh International Book Festival nearby, with some of my favorite authors speaking – Maggie O’Farrell, Sophie Hannah, Haruki Murakami, Martin Amis. Too late to get a ticket to hear even one, but I wandered the grounds, browsed through the books in tents, and, of course, bought some books.

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That Part Was True

9781455573653_p0_v2_s260x420By combining an epistolary with a few recipes and some self reflection, Deborah McKinley’s novel – That Part Was True – offers a romantic tale of two characters who live a sea apart but are confronting similar mid-life doubts. They inadvertently help each other through their letters and a mutual love of food, and possibly live happily ever after – but you will have to decide.

Jack is a 49-year-old American writer of a successful detective series; Eve, a lovely but insecure divorced mother who lives outside of London, writes to comment on one of his books, and the long distance relationship begins. The letters sporadically appear between descriptions of each character’s coping with assorted difficulties: Jack’s writer’s block, Eve’s panic attacks, a wedding, a divorce, midlife introspection and insecurities…

If you enjoy stories by Penelope Lively and Eleanor Lipman (her review in the New York Times motivated me to find this book), you will appreciate McKinley’s nuances and the familiar thoughts that surface in the characters’ relationships.

Curiously, reading their descriptions of how they each prepared favorite foods made me hungry, and the informal recipes sprinkled throughout the narrative were my favorite parts. McKinley includes a recipe for peanut cookies that Jack makes in the middle of the night to cure his insomnia. Worked for me too.

I’m including McKinley’s recipe so I can make them again after I return the book to the library:

Granny Cooper’s Peanut Cookies

3 ounces butter
1 small cup sugar
1 egg
1 good cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dessert spoon cocoa
1 cup peanuts (She liked to roast them in the oven first.  I do , too.)

Cream the butter and sugar; add the beaten egg; then mix in the sifted flour, baking powder, and cocoa; and last, add the cooled peanuts.
Place spoonfuls on tray(s) and bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

Serve with milk.

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