PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: PopCo

Author: Scarlett Thomas

Type of Book: Fiction, cryptography, veganism, mystery

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Like the works of Chuck Palahniuk, this book can be seen as a gateway odd book. While a bit strange, it is not wholly odd but for the right reader, it will open all kinds of odd doors. For some, a mere mention of the Voynich Manuscript is virtual assurance of hours spent in a very odd world.

Availability: Published by Fourth Estate in 2004, it appears to be out of print and in the “bargain book” stage. However, you can still score a new copy online:

Comments: A few years ago, I ran a blog called Ghostroses, a terribly unfocused journal wherein I just wrote aimlessly about whatever topic came to mind. I reviewed some books over there, too. This month I noticed that I was getting some hits on IROB from a cryptography site. I was never able to pin down any entry here that would ping the interests of a cryptography enthusiast, but I ended up reading that site for a couple of hours because it focuses heavily on one of my favorite unsolved mysteries: the Voynich Manuscript. If you have time, check the site out. It’s quite interesting. As I read, I remembered the long discussion I wrote five or six years ago about PopCo, a book which discusses in depth cryptography in general and the Voynich Manuscript specifically, though briefly. No idea why I have visitors from a cryptography site now (hello and welcome!), but I am pleased I remembered this old discussion, because I really liked the book a lot.

Since I am preparing for Bizarro Week and spent far too much time fielding some unrelated nonsense on this site, I am behind on my discussions.  So I decided to edit (and in some places gut) my old discussion of PopCo.  It was interesting to realize that I was just as verbose back then, and that despite not having a brain cut out for the hard logic and mathematics of cryptography, I am not quite the dilettante I thought I was, as my interest in the topic persists to this day. Or maybe I am just a persistent dilettante.

At any rate, this book covers a lot of ground – media and marketing studies, mathematics, cryptography, veganism, toys, and social resistance.It is interesting for me reading this discussion because I wrote it not to discuss a book but rather my reaction to a book, which may seem like a specious distinction given my still intense, personal reactions to books. But in this review, I was just regurgitating how this book affected me and didn’t talk enough about how the book was excellent outside of my reaction to it. Like any personal blog entry, this is just a discussion of my life – it just so happens that this one is shaped around a book. Still, even in this somewhat disjointed discussion, I hope I convey what a fabulous book this is.

The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies by David Agranoff

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies

Author: David Agranoff

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, zombies

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s published by an Eraserhead imprint and while not odd in the vein of complete bizarro, there are enough odd elements in this book that I likely would have discussed it here whether or not Zombie Week happened.

Availability: Published by Deadite Press in 2010, it’s available but wait about a month or so to get a copy, and I will explain the reason for this recommendation.

Comments: Okay, let me get site business out of the way. I am giving away a copy of all five books I am discussing for Zombie Week and one lucky reader will get a chance to win all five of them. All you have to do to enter the drawing to win all five books is to leave me a comment on any of the five Zombie Week discussions. If you want to increase your chances of winning, leave a comment on all five entries. And while only one comment per day per entry will count as an entry to win the books, please leave more comments if the spirit moves you. I rather have enjoyed the comments and conversations that have taken place over the course of Zombie Week.

Now that the site business is out of the way, let me get two unpleasant points out of the way as well. First, this book discusses veganism. It discusses it earnestly while having the social, ethical and emotional honesty to poke fun at and satirize elements of vegan beliefs. But it has been my experience that there are a certain subset of people in this world who read the word vegan, remember That One Time a Vegan Yelled at Me For Eating a Hamburger, and start frothing at the mouth, typing in all caps, posting pics of mutilated animals and behaving like a complete asshat. As a failed vegan whose failure is not the diet but rather that I am a complete headcase, there is nothing anyone can say that I haven’t heard before nor is there any abuse anyone can hurl that won’t already be familiar. I will say that should such behavior start, I will let words stand (no pictures and if you post any you are a terrible person and even your dog knows it). If you are particularly egregious, I will be tempted to post your IP address so a couple of my more paranoid readers can track you down so the rest of us can send you tofu and vegan hotdogs via e-mail. We might slut shame your goldfish. We might even laugh at your socks. None of that seems threatening? No shit, Sherlock, and neither will any attempts to mock vegans. It’s all so dumb, so rise above, okay?

Second, the reason I did not link to the book and recommend waiting a month to get a copy is because this was one of the worst edited books I have ever read. Hands down, it wins the prize, and the problems so abundant and at times over-the-top that if I even attempt to discuss them, readers would think I was either engaging in hyperbole or assholish behavior. I contacted the publishers to ask them a generic, “What the hell, OMG?” and I have it on very good authority that the book is going to undergo a pretty substantial edit and that it should be complete in a few weeks. The editing issues are so bad I would not recommend anyone buy this book until Deadite gives the all clear that it has been cleaned up. Be sure to check back because when that happens, I will update with a link to buy it.

That also means that the person who wins this contest will get four books sent immediately and one book to follow – the contest winner will definitely get a clean copy when it is ready.

Now for the book. Aside from the editing problems, it was clear to me that Agranoff is still a green writer. He has a great ear for dialogue but has a tendency to make all his characters laugh a lot, even when it seems inappropriate. Worse, there’s a lot of giggling going on (am I the only one who thinks a sober, male character who giggles is probably a serial killer, or do others just not find the concept of giggling as creepy and annoying as I do). His characters also point and shake their heads a lot. Not sure what that was about – probably just one of those writer-crutches that a good editor shines a light on and makes disappear. I mention all of this now because with the editing issues that will soon be fixed, that’s all I have to criticize about this book.

Seriously. It’s been a while since I read a book that, editing issues aside, got every damn thing right. Agranoff’s book is clever, satirical, gross, touching, sad, and filled with more pop cultural references than you can shake a stick at. Music, movies, hipsters, Juggalos, books, vegan culture, non-vegan culture. This book is a near perfect example of the saying that sarcasm is the body’s natural defense against stupid, or, in the case of one character, mindless regurgitation of useless pop culture trivia is the best defense against awkward situations.

This book also employs the most traditional use of zombies of all the story-oriented books I will discuss this week. The agent that causes zombie-ism makes people die and come back from the dead. The transition from life to death is slow but the living are sick, and then the next moment, they are zombies. They are brainless, driven only by the impulse to attack non-zombie humans. They tend to arrive in packs but they are not organized – they don’t have the mental capacity for it. These zombies are driven so exclusively by impulse that they no longer know how to climb, how to open doors, how to escape from the buildings many of them died inside. These are creatures that can also eventually starve to death if they don’t have access to fresh humans. The way these zombies came to exist precludes the already dead rising from the grave – if you weren’t alive when the agent struck, you won’t come back.

I had an interesting conversation with the guy over at Bitterly Books in an e-mail exchange. He made an intriguing point – that the zombie tale is essentially one of exile, of a person being isolated from their own society. In the abstract, I think that’s a good way to look at this book – people who were self-exiled in the normal world find themselves the last people on Earth, and even then, some were still isolated and exiled as the world struggled to redefine itself. There are times when I wonder if I am reading too much into books, especially books from branches of the bizarro tree, but then I generally think I am on track, and I feel pretty strongly that this book is quite layered, telling a specific story and relating a specific message even while it entertains us with zombies.

Here’s a plot synopsis: Dani works for Fulci House Press, where she is editing Of Mice and Men… and Zombies. Despite the fact that her zombie-fanatic boyfriend Magik pulled strings to help her get the job, she is sick of zombies within days of starting work, even though Magik plays her his favorite zombie movies in an attempt to draw her in. At a hipster “Bacon Night” at a Portland club, Dani has an awakening and decides to become vegan and Magik joins her, just in time because Stress-Free Meat is being introduced to the country, debuting in Portland first. Animals bred so that they don’t feel pain, stress, boredom or unhappiness enter the market and consuming those meats cause people to grow more and more sick, feeling flu-ey, turning purplish, growing more and more lethargic until they die and almost immediately reanimate as zombies. The vegans who survived this food armageddon descend upon a vegan mall in Portland and together they squabble, kill zombies, and try to keep their ideals in perspective as they rebuild the world. And oh yeah, they do their best to find the best soundtrack to blast while blowing away zombies.

I very nearly stopped reading this book because of the editing issues and I am so glad I kept on because the errors were repetitive enough that I could get used to them and enjoy the story anyway. And there was much to enjoy. Agranoff has a way with dialogue that reminded me of earlier Stephen King works. He is a dedicated vegan in real life but is acutely aware of and clearly sees the the humor in the various factions that make up the vegan community. He also is immersed in all sorts of elements of pop culture, cleverly lampooning the …with Zombies series of books, fans of Insane Clown Posse, and the more negative elements of hipster culture.

I think some of my appreciation for Agranoff’s skills as a writer come from his characterization of Dani. In order to poke fun at vegans and hipsters and Juggalos, those characters must be painted with a broader brush. There isn’t going to be a lot of truth in the obese, chain-smoking Juggalo mom or the stinking, trash-digging freegan who will eat anything he finds in a dumpster, or the strident animal-liberation vegan who feels that shooting zombies is unethical. But there is some truth to be had in Dani.

Dani is an interesting character. I both liked her and was irritated by her. I understood all too well the nausea that comes when one is surrounded by bacon (and I don’t really mind that hipsters dig bacon so much – I have my own theories about hipsters and why they like bacon but that has little to do with this review so I will just shut up about that topic). Having grown up in the South, there were times I could smell bacon in my hair and clothes after a family breakfast and there is no force that will ever make me eat pig again. It’s a visceral reaction when that happens, when a food you have eaten your entire life suddenly disgusts you, and Agranoff very neatly set up this visceral disgust before animal rights veganism is really a plot point in the book. This read as utterly true to me.

Dani hates her job. Yes, most of us would be very happy to be an editor at a press, even one that is as jaded culturally as many consider the press that brought the …with Zombies franchise into the literary landscape. I think we’ve all had that experience – a friend with an enviable job who finds their work day tiresome. Her co-workers are for the most part disgusting or annoying and Dani hates them all. But even as they irritate the everloving hell out of her, Dani is not a nasty person. She loathes her hipster and freegan coworkers, but when one of them seems like she is in jeopardy, she reacts with alarm. Sally eats McDonalds every day, sometimes twice a day, and she’s become slower in speech and movement until she is… wait for it… practically a zombie. Perhaps no one else noticed how sick Sally was because they were all ill themselves. But Dani notices and tries to help reason with Sally that maybe her fast food diet is having a negative effect, all to no avail.

And while I wonder how much this element of the book will resonate with non-foodies or omnivores, I especially appreciated the satirical spears Agranoff throws at Michael Pollan, Pete Singer, Ingrid Newkirk and Gary Francione… I mean Professor Francione. With the exception of Singer (whom I just always found a little… I don’t know… uninspiring?), the rest of these people are not wholly bad, but each comes with a set of problems that have made reflecting one’s political beliefs through food choices and activism difficult. Pollan’s message is ultimately elitist and shows a false concern for animals that will ultimately be killed and eaten, Newkirk has been discredited by the insane and often offensive PETA ads, and I have to suspect that every person who hates vegans loathes them because they tangled with one of Professor Francione’s fanatical acolytes. That Agranoff is willing to dissect veganism and show it, warts and all, means a lot where his sincerity is concerned. That most of it is funny helps and that “Sanger,” Agranoff’s pseudonym for Pete Singer, is one of the first to become a zombie, was one of the best parts of the book.

I was torn over some of the dialogue in some places but then I had to just remember that half the people I know would likely sound the same. Take this exchange, which I hope does not give away too much of the plot:

“Today is a good day to die.”
“Stop it,” Dani shook her head. “We don’t know that yet.”
Bru-Dawg whispered to Mark, “Dude. Who quotes Klingons when they’re dying?”
“It’s an old Native American saying,” Mark whispered back.
“No, I was quoting Klingons,” Magik said.
“See,” Bru-Dawg shook his head. “Nerd.”

I live with a nerd-geek hybrid who shares a birthday with Leonard Nimoy. We will have this conversation, I suspect, when the zombie apocalypse finally comes.

Here’s another section, that seems sort of glib but on second thought is pretty hilarious to me. The worst has happened and the zombie apocalypse has begun and a group of people are at a vegan supermarket in a vegan strip mall. But not all who are in the store are actually vegans. There are a handful of raw foodists, who drank raw milk from Stress-Free cows, and some freegans, including Dani’s gross coworker. One of the store owners shoots Freddy the Freegan in the head, a smart move as Freddy had just turned. But Freddy’s friend remains.

Dani turned her eyes toward Freddy’s other freegan friend. He stood now and walked toward them with his mouth open. Mark pointed his Glock at the freegan zombie. Samantha appeared in the doorway. Emily blocked her from coming in the back room.
“You don’t want to see this, Sam,” Emily pleaded with her as she held her back.
“Stop. Violence doesn’t solve anything!” Samantha screamed.
“I disagree.” Mark pointed the Glock at Freddy’s mostly headless body. “I think it solves the Freegan problem quite nicely.”

And though this is funny to me (and hopefully to others), it also sets up the final struggle, which is not with the zombies, but how the surviving vegans will organize themselves and find a way to live in the world they always wanted and that they finally now have, though none of them would have seen the price the world had paid in human death to be worth it. The last 20 pages of the book are both heartbreaking and inspiring.

But let me tell you this. As much as I found Agranoff’s characterization spot-on, his insight into zombie, hipster, and pop culture to be trenchant and hilarious, and as interesting as the struggle with the zombies was, the best parts of this book were the tests at the end of each chapter. Here are a couple of examples:

Mike Poland would eat a human baby if:
A) It was locally produced.
B) It had not been given growth hormones.
C) A prayer was said thanking the baby for its sacrifice.
D) All of the above.

I guess you sort of have to dislike Michael Pollan for that to seem funny but to me, it was quite amusing.

Or take this one:

The only reason a cow would be on a desert island would be:
A) Some idiot human put him/her there.
B) To prove without a shadow of a doubt that humans being vegetarian is impossible.
C) To film an episode of Lost.
D) To get away from humans.

Okay, indulge me, but here’s one more:

At this point Sally should:
A) Eat her breakfast.
B) Get some rest.
C) Have a drink.
D) Be shot in the head immediately.

These tests are a litmus test of a sort. If, like me, you are enough of a dork that you think this was all very funny, you need to read this book.

So, what we have here is a novel in which traditional zombies do traditional things, like mindlessly attack the living for sustenance and then get shot in their heads. We have a couple of well-developed characters who contrast nicely with some humorous social stereotypes. We have a funny novel with lots of nasty gore of people slowly dying, zombies both undead and finally dead, and the horror of animal husbandry. We have the gut pleasure of watching the apocalypse from the sidelines as the worst happens, people get their guns, establish control and assert their morality as best they can. But we also have a novel that is just a nightmare in terms of editing, and take my word – do not buy a copy until it has been updated, but again, I have it on very good authority that it will be fixed up sooner rather than later. But once that happens, I think the mass of the zombie fans who have showed up here would enjoy the hell out of this book, and I think my regular readers would find this odd and off-beat enough to be worth reading. I also hope some of you zombie fans become regular readers, too. The conversations here and the book recommendations I have received have made me very happy I decided to soldier ahead with Zombie Week.

Now comment so you can enter to win the five books I am giving away, and be sure to come back tomorrow. I will be discussing a book wherein the zombies are probably berzerkers, but there’s a good reason I didn’t review this author’s awesome book that is both indisputably about zombies and awesome. Luckily, this book is also awesome, even though it wanders off the path of true zombies, so don’t miss out.

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Skinny Bitch

Authors: Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

Type of Book: Health, diet, veganism

Why Did I Read This Book: Because someone I follow on tumblr posted excerpts and it seemed delightfully and refreshingly rude. Also, because I read some Amazon reviews wherein people were shocked, shocked I tell you, that the authors were pushing a vegan agenda in their book! As if promoting veganism is a terrible, subversive, bizarre thing to do. Needless to say, I was amused.

Availability: Easily obtained, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I am a failed vegan. I fail for a lot of reasons but mostly it is because I am lazy. I was raised with a specific palate and it’s hard to change. Also cheese is an addictive substance and I will refudiate anyone who insists otherwise. I don’t give any excuses for my failure – I fail because I fail, and that’s all there is to it. So I was very interested in this book after reading some excerpts because it seemed like the authors cut their audience very little slack. It also appeared that the shallowness of the title aside, the book was about more than achieving a scrawny body, also examining the disgrace of the American food industry and the complete failure of the FDA to ensure food safety.

My first impressions were right and wrong. The book certainly pulls no punches in its approach. Take this gem, for example:

So before you say, “I could never give up meat,” realize that nearly every single vegetarian on the planet said those same words. Then shut the fuck up, look at an inspirational picture of a skinny bitch, and clean out your freezer.

Yeah, I am just enough of a masochist that those words made me dizzy a little bit. No sarcasm here. I like tough love aggression. I mean, one of the chapters is entitled, “Don’t Be a Pussy.” Seriously. These women don’t want to hear our shitty excuses.

Their refutation of the Atkins Diet made me love them a little:

So shout it from the rooftops until every one of your dumb-ass misinformed friends hears: YOU CAN EAT BREAD AND FRUIT!

And my last crumb of adoration before I start listing my objections:

Give up the notion that you can be sedentary and still lose weight. You need to exercise, you lazy shit.

Needless to say, my elliptical machine has a not-so-fine layer of dust on it. I really need a tough love friend to yell at me the way these women do, because despite their foul mouths and name calling, they also make it clear that this is a process, making these changes, and that every step you take towards eliminating animal from your diet is a step towards saving your health and your life.

But I have some pretty profound issues with this book. First, I must acknowledge that I am a person who has a crush on Morgan Spurlock. I like nothing better than someone who is willing to look into issues and tell us the truth, even if it means being smeared on Fox News. I’ve read almost every major book that discusses the American food industry, from Eric Schlosser to Michael Pollan(whom I have grown to loathe with the fire of a thousand suns or at least the heart of a woman who finds hunting wild pigs to satisfy some primal need to be distasteful) to Frances Moore Lappe. So my first issue with this book is one that may only be specific to me and those like me, but there is little in this book that will be new to people who are interested in healthy food and concerned about the increasingly libertarian, capitalist approach to regulating the food and drug industries. I read nothing in this book I did not already know.

Second, this book puts a couple of lines in to discuss the relative expense of a vegan, organic diet.

Recognize that anything worth having is worth fighting for… Fuck excuses about not having the time or the money… Certainly your health and your body and you are more important than anything else in your life.

Okay, yeah, I sort of get it. I mean, they are right to a point, health is worth fighting for. But money is a finite resource. If you don’t have it, you can’t just say, “Fuck it, I’m gonna pay more for food anyway.” So I was uneasy, but then my uneasiness was substantiated further.

Don’t be a cheap asshole. Yeah, yeah, yeah, organic produce is usually more expensive than conventional produce. But we spend countless dollars on clothes, jewelry, manicures, magazines, rent or mortgages, car payments and other bullshit. Surely our health and our bodies (we only get one body) are more important than anything else in our lives.

The authors make the point in the same paragraph that perhaps the costs will even out because the more you prepare your own meals and snacks, the less money you spend on costly eating out or impulse food shopping.

But this passage above, more than anything else, distills why many bristle at health food vegans. Veganism as practiced in America can be one of the most elitist diets ever. If one eschews animal products and animal cruelty in all forms, everything from food to shampoo to laundry detergent becomes more expensive. The vegan refusal to admit this troubles me.

You see, like many of our peers, Mr. Everything and I are precariously middle-class. I mean, I own a home, we have two cars, one of which is very old, and we can afford for me to spend money on books. We get to run the air conditioner in the hot, Texas summers. Compared to 90% of the world, we are blessed and privileged. But I don’t spend countless dollars on manicures. I’ve never had one, in fact. I wear no jewelry. I use an old computer. My purse is ten-years-old. And I find a vegan diet prohibitively expensive during the winter when the farmers markets are no longer open out here in the ‘burbs. I find vegan, organic products as a whole to be quite a bit more expensive than their non-vegan, non-organic counterparts. So to drill this idea down to its core – I am a privileged person economically and even I find the vegan lifestyle dear economically.

Of course, on paper, many vegans also adopt a less consumer-driven lifestyle and don’t have closets filled with leather shoes, silk blouses, wool coats. But reducing consumer spending can only get you so far, meaning one has to be purchasing manicures, jewelry, and clothes to the extent that such dollars can be reallocated to purchasing organic and vegan foods. I would venture that millions of Americans don’t spend money on frivolities. They are not out buying french pedicures and the latest shoe style favored by celebutantes. They don’t have the money to redirect to healthier food options and to callously suggest that they do makes it hard to make a case for veganism as a truly sustainable way of eating for everyone, not just us reasonably comfortable white chicks who live within 25 miles of a Whole Foods and a regular farmer’s market.

Let me give this as one example:

There are a ton of awesome, soy-based fake meat products on the market, which are great for transitioning away from meat…

I’m glad they included the word “transitioning” because those soy-based fake meat products are so expensive I can’t see buying them permanently. (Also, on a strictly personal level, I have never smelled a fake meat other than bean-based veggie burgers that didn’t smell a little like what would happen if you microwaved PlayDoh but I have always had a sensitive nose.) At my local supermarket, a package of Morningstar Farms Chick’n patties costs $3.49 for 9.5 ounces of product, and Morningstar Farms is a more affordable vegetarian brand. That’s $5.92 a pound. That may not sound bad but bear in mind that this is the cost for a product that would be one element of one meal for a family of four. More exclusive brands cost far more. Fake meats cost far more than regular non-vegan equivalents. People who shop on a budget, especially for families, or those who use food stamps, flat out cannot afford food like this. People without cars who live in areas under-served by grocery chains cannot obtain fake meat from the frozen aisle. Of course, the authors don’t control the food inequity in the USA, wherein the worst calories are the most affordable, wherein some urban areas are under-served by supermarket chains. But this is not the first source I have read that glosses over the financial realities of eating well, making broad statements about how it’s affordable without really explaining the details of such statements.

For example, authors include a chapter on brands they like that offer nutrition, organic goodness and veganism, and overall, I think the list is awesome. But the Peanut Butter Puffins cereal by Barbara’s Bakery cost much more than Captain Crunch by Quaker Oats. At my local supermarket, I can’t even get the former. I have to drive into Austin proper, which requires gas, then spend about $1.50 more per box. The Barbara’s Bakery cereal is far superior, don’t get me wrong, but in order to get it, I need a car, the ability to drive 20 miles round trip, the gas for the trip and the money to pay extra for the product. I have no kids, so the box would last me a while, but the same could not be said for a family with a couple of children. This may seem like I am niggling, but this is important because at some point, we have to admit that the doctrine of veganism and organic eating in general is something only some of us can afford the way the world currently works and to insinuate that it really is just an economic choice for everyone is misguided and, frankly, elitist.

The part about spending money on rent or mortgages being “bullshit” is absolutely insane. Mortgages are not bullshit. Rent is not bullshit spending. It’s how we ensure we have a kitchen to prepare our hopefully vegan meals. I cannot imagine what sort of mindset considers paying rent to be bullshit. I just can’t. It was either horribly ill-conceived or speaks of a callousness that has left the authors so out of touch with that which really matters that they have no problem lumping in the costs of not being homeless with the same money spent on manicures.

Finally, my last quarrel with this book is that it has two versions: Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bastard . In the interests of making me happy, Mr. Everything read Skinny Bastard and we compared books. They are virtually identical, with small differences for sex-specific health concerns. It’s clear the book for women got edited a little for men. At $14 a pop for a new, small format, trade paperback with margins that permit only 20 lines per page, it was not a good investment. And like me, Mr. Everything has read a ton of books on subjects covered in this book already but unlike me, he didn’t like being called an asshole or a lazy shit.

All in all, if you are completely new to veganism, how the government is little help in determining food safety and healthy eating in general, I can see how this book would be of some help. For anyone who already follows the Post Punk Kitchen, for whom Isa Chandra Moskowitz has already revealed the awesomeness of vegan food, who has a battered copy of Diet for a Small Planet on their shelves, or those who don’t like ad hominem abuse, this book may be a miss. I’m not the sort to return a book because the content didn’t come through for me, but if I had a chance to not purchase it in the first place, I’d likely go that route even though me and my big fat ass could use some scolding.

(Also, in a shameless bit of online nepotism, if you are looking for a really good book of vegan recipes, try 500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies, co-written and beautifully photographed by my friend Celine Steen.)