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Phil Klay’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

Courtesy of Phil Klay

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from author Phil Klay, who served in Iraq prior to landing on the New York Times bestseller list for his riveting fictional stories of war and the experience of coming home.

Latest book: Redeployment
Reading recommendations: I’ve been reading A. Scott Berg’s anthology World War I and America, a fascinating collection of essays, articles, diary entries, and speeches from 1914 to 1921. Among the riches there are several articles by W.E.B. Du Bois and James Wheldon Johnson, showing first-rate minds grappling with which political course to advocate in a world gripped by a massive war abroad while black Americans routinely faced horrific acts of domestic terrorism.

I’ve also been thinking increasingly about Teddy Roosevelt’s 1883 speechThe Duties of American Citizenship.” Though some of his positions are dated—”the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children”—so much of it holds up as solid, practical advice in how to go about creating political change. Roosevelt continually stresses the hard work of building up organizations and institutions as the key component of American political life. “A great many of our men in business,” he says, “rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties.” (Sadly, he has little to say on the possibility of tweeting your way to a greater democracy.)

Few things make me happier than reading Sandra Boynton’s Muu, Bee, Así Fue to my 14-month-old son. I don’t know if there’s any direct link between that book, which is mostly an excuse to make animal noises, and our current moment of political rancor, but I’d like to believe that the process of reading to my child is slowly teaching me to be a kinder person.

So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang. (New posts daily.)


Phil Klay’s Resistance Reading

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Former Kinks Leader Ray Davies Reflects on the Good Old USA

Mother Jones

Ray Davies

Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

On his first set of new material in nearly a decade, former Kinks leader Ray Davies reflects on his relationship with the good old USA, a subject the Brit also explored on the early-’70s LP Muswell Hillbillies. With alt-country mainstays The Jayhawks providing surehanded, understated support, he crafts a mood of bittersweet nostalgia, touching on The Kinks’ early days in the British Invasion (“The Invaders”), lamenting the state of the modern world (“Poetry”) and, as always, calling out crass poseurs (“The Deal”). A wry, tender singer, Davies remains in fine voice throughout—no small achievement considering he’s been performing more than a half-century. It would be great just to have him back in action, which makes this memorable album an especially satisfying return.

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Former Kinks Leader Ray Davies Reflects on the Good Old USA

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Singer Rodney Crowell’s Regret-Soaked Vignettes

Mother Jones

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Rodney Crowell
Close Ties
New West

Courtesy of New West Records

Rodney Crowell has certainly aged well. A reliable country hitmaker in the ’80s, this gifted songwriter subsequently traded chart success for more thoughtful records that deepened his roots in the best Nashville and folk traditions. Following the second of his fine collaborations with former employer Emmylou Harris, he’s returned to solo work on the quietly devastating Close Ties. Stripping his music down to its emotional essentials, Crowell crafts vivid, regret-soaked vignettes of reckless behavior and hard lessons learned, with his weary, rueful voice amplifying the confessional vibe. The loping “It Ain’t Over Yet,” featuring guest vocals by ex-wife Rosanne Cash and John Paul White, late of The Civil Wars, champions the resilient spirit, while “East Houston Blues” recounts the trials of “a worried man on a losing streak” to a jaunty groove. And “Nashville 1972” takes a fond look back at his early days in Music City, rubbing shoulders with greats like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Tom T. Hall. Call it country, folk, pop or Americana, Close Ties will connect with anyone who appreciates insightful tunes and honest, unadorned performances.

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Singer Rodney Crowell’s Regret-Soaked Vignettes

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This Simple Advice Completely Changed the Way I Cook (and Eat)

Mother Jones

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In the days after reading Samin Nosrat’s new book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, eating felt like a new adventure. My tongue became a detective, searching for the source of different flavors and how they mingled together, whether they balanced each other out or dragged each other down. And when it came time to cook simple meals, the raw carrots and greens in my fridge looked less intimidating: I had new tools to tame them.

Inspiring this sense of culinary liberation was precisely Nosrat’s goal with her cookbook, which eschews formulaic recipes in favor of heartfelt stories, bits and pieces of science, and time-tested nuggets of kitchen wisdom (not to mention gorgeous and witty watercolors by the prolific Wendy MacNaughton). “Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious,” asserts Nosrat, who joined us on our latest episode of Bite. The new cookbook, out on April 25, “will change the way you think about cooking and eating, and help you find your bearings in any kitchen, with any ingredients, while cooking any meal.” Lofty promises, but boy, does Nosrat deliver.

Nosrat came of age as a cook in the early 2000s at Chez Panisse, the legendary farm-to-table restaurant in Berkeley, California. In 2014, she became known as “the chef who taught Michael Pollan to cook,” after she was featured in Pollan’s book Cooked and the Netflix special with the same name. What defines her work is her focus on salt, fat, acid, and heat as the “four elements that guided basic decision making in every single dish, no matter what.” It’s not as if other chefs haven’t discovered this strategy; in fact, when she revealed her theory to a fellow cook, Nosrat writes, “he smiled at me, as if to say, ‘Duh, everyone knows that.'” But Nosrat had “never heard it or read it anywhere, and certainly no one had ever explicitly” taught her the idea.

I dabble in cooking, but I tend to rely on recipes, so I am ripe for this type of revelation. I spent an afternoon with Nosrat and witnessed her wizardry at work through an experiment with acid. Th amazing illustration above aside, acid in cooking refers to vinegar, citrus fruits, condiments, pickles, and all kinds of fermented foods, among other things. Acid alone tastes sour, but combined with other things, it heightens flavors and creates balance.

Witness what happened with some plain carrot soup. Nosrat cooked two diced onions in olive oil and butter until they were soft. She added two bunches of peeled, sliced carrots, water and salt, and simmered the mixture until the vegetables were tender. Then she subjected it to an immersion blender to make it smooth. Aside from maybe the immersion blender (and you could cool the soup and use a regular blender instead), all of these ingredients are cheap, accessible, and pretty straightforward to cook. The soup they produced was earthy and sweet; a perfectly fine office lunch, as Nosrat branded it.

What transformed it into a Chez Panisse-worthy potage was a few drops of one of the cheapest household ingredients: vinegar. Nosrat learned of this secret from a fellow cook while still working in the restaurant’s kitchen. She was skeptical of the advice—”Vinegar? Who’d ever heard of putting vinegar in soup?”—but when she obliged, she confronted sheer magic. “The vinegar acted like a prism, revealing the soup’s nuanced flavors—I could taste the butter and the oil, the onions and stock, even the sugar and minerals within the carrots.” The acid brought everything to life. As Nosrat writes: “If something I cooked and seasoned ever tasted so dull again, I’d know exactly what I was missing.”

Maddie Oatman

When Nosrat made me the carrot soup, we actually sampled three versions—one with no adornment, one with added vinegar and salt, and one with a salsa verde of cilantro, ginger, salt, and lime. To hear the full results of the taste test, you’ll have to tune in to the whole episode.

You can make similar soups with all sorts of vegetables and their acid companions; see below for Nosrat’s recipe for corn soup, which only requires four basic ingredients, plus a garnish or two. Choose the freshest ingredients you can find. And when you’re done, as she advises in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: “Taste the soup for salt, sweetness, and acid balance. If the soup is very flatly sweet, a tiny bit of white wine vinegar or lime juice can help balance it out.”

Silky Sweet Corn Soup

From Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat

8 to 10 ears of corn, husks, stalks, and silk removed
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) of butter
2 medium yellow onions, sliced


Fold a kitchen towel into quarters and set it inside a large, wide metal bowl. Use one hand to hold an ear of corn in place upright atop the kitchen towel—it helps to pinch the ear at the top. With your other hand, use a serrated knife or sharp chef’s knife to cut off two or three rows of kernels at a time by sliding the knife down the cob. Get as close to the cob as you can, and resist the temptation to cut off more rows at once—that’ll leave behind lots of precious corn. Save the cobs.

In a soup pot, quickly make a corn cob stock: Cover the cobs with 9 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove the cobs. Set stock aside.

Return the pot to the stove and heat over medium heat. Add the butter. Once it has melted, add the onions and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely soft and translucent, or blond, about 20 minutes. If you notice the onions starting to brown, add a splash of water and keep an eye on things, stirring frequently, to prevent further browning.

As soon as the onions are tender, add the corn. Increase the heat to high and sauté just until the corn turns a brighter shade of yellow, 3 to 4 minutes. Add just enough stock to cover everything, and crank up the heat to high. Save the rest of the stock in case you need to thin out the soup later. Season with salt, taste, and adjust. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to carefully blend the soup until it is puréed. If you don’t have one, work carefully and quickly purée in batches in a blender or food processor. For a very silky texture, strain the soup one last time through a fine-mesh sieve.

Taste the soup for salt, sweetness, and acid balance. If the soup is very flatly sweet, a tiny bit of white wine vinegar or lime juice can help balance it out. To serve, either ladle chilled soup into bowls and spoon salsa over it to garnish, or quickly bring the soup to a boil and serve hot with an acidic garnish.


Follow this method and the basic formula I described above–about 2 1/2 pounds of vegetables or cooked legumes, 2 onions, and enough stock or water to cover—to turn practically any other vegetable into a velvety soup. The cob stock is unique to corn soup; don’t try to replicate it when making any of the variations. Carrot peel stock won’t do much for soup!

“Smooth Soup Suggestions” Wendy MacNaughton

Bite is Mother Jones‘ food politics podcast. Listen to all our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.

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This Simple Advice Completely Changed the Way I Cook (and Eat)

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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the delightfully evocative wordsmith Karen Russell, whose debut novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and whose short-story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is weird and wonderful.

Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

Latest book: Sleep Donation
Also known for: Swamplandia!
Reading recommendations: Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino: Because, if everything we write and read becomes dire and reactionary, Trump will have truly won, here’s a book that celebrates the radical freedom of the imagination. A book brimming with recombinatory energy, play and joy. Light by which to see into many different futures.

Some Say, by Maureen McClane—or anything/everything by McClane, whose vitalizing series of “Dawn School” poems was written, she says, out of “a desire to resist apocalyptic anxiety without denying ‘reality.'”

Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, by Joy Williams: At a time when so many people are feeling impotent, consumed with helpless rage, Williams’ hilarious, furious, and stirring essays remind us rage can be helpful. It can be potent. Let’s put it to use, in the service of our fellow animals.

All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu: A book that brings down walls. Overlapping tales of American dislocation and American reinvention.

My last pick would be Late Victorian Holocausts, by Mike Davis. This groundbreaking “political ecology of famines” traces the development of today’s so-called “third world” to wealth inequalities that were shaped in the late 19th century, when non-European peasantries were violently yoked into the world economy. Dozens of examples of “malign interactions between climactic and economic processes” that have a grave resonance with the overlapping crises of our present moment. A challenge to the view of markets as self-regulating automata and an indictment of the human authors of “natural” disasters: “Millions die,” Davis writes, “was ultimately a policy choice.”
So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

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